The glass was cleaned Saturday night, courtesy of Kenny Thomas.
The Rockets rookie power forward, who was passed on by 21 other teams in last summer's draft (Hey Utah, how does Quincy Lewis look?), scored 18 points and cleaned 22 caroms off the glass to help fuel the Rockets to a 115-93 thumping of the Atlanta Hawks.
The win means there is now a game and a half separating the Rockets and Hawks in Lottery Race 2000
Thomas became the first rookie since Tim Duncan in '98 to grab 20 or more boards. Said Kenny, "Twenty-two is a lot of rebounds. It felt good. It didn't seem like I had that many. I was surprised I had 10 at halftime."
So were we.
All season long the Rockets have had some brilliant backcourt play and nothing to show for the frontcourt. Thomas, who also added 6 assists to go with his pumped up point and board digits, teamed up with Kelvin Cato to add some strength in the paint.
Cato scored 21 points on 9-15 shooting, including 2 highlight reel alleyoops, grabbed 15 boards and rejected 3 shots. What we saw was the Cato we expected to see more of after his dazzling preseason.
Yes, yes, it was the Hawks... you have to keep that in mind, but nice to see some muscle being flexed down low as opposed to constantly relying on nothing but outside quickness.
Neither Cato nor Thomas led the team in scoring however. That was Cuttino Mobley's job, who in just 26 minutes scored 24 points, hit 8-14 from the field, 7-7 from the line, added 5 boards and 4 assists. Big numbers off the bench.
Steve Francis scored 16 points and Walt Williams had 12 and 5 boards.
The Rocks dominated the glass, grabbing 58 boards to 44 for the Hawks, and outshot Atlanta 50.6% to 36.9%.
You don't see many teams with as many losses as the Rockets that are actually smiling, dancing and high fiving in introductions before a game. It is obvious this team has very good chemistry... really seem to get along extremely well.
Walt threw an alleyoop pass to Francis and I have no idea how he caught it -- it was just so high. Francis skied regardless and threw it down with authority, giving the Rockets the early 4-2 lead. The Rockets jumped out 12-6, but after a Jason Terry three-pointer it was tied at 20.
Dion Glover hit a 30+ foot bomb as the first quarter horn sounded and after one it was 31-29 Rockets. Kenny Thomas led all scorers at that stage with 9 points and 5 boards.
Francis jumpstarted the Rockets early in the second though as the team went on a 16-4 run to take a 47-33 lead. At half it was 65-47 Rockets. Mobley had 13 at the break while KT and Cato each had 11.
To start the third Wizard threw an alleyoop pass behind Kelvin and Cato stunned the crowd (and Bill and Calvin) by jumping way the hell up, reaching out with his left hand and hammering it down something fierce. All that athleticism in Cato sure would be nice to see him be consistent.
After a Francis fast break dunk it was a laugher, 71-49 Rockets.
The Rockets ran off 7 more points, capped by another alleyoop from Walt to Cato (this one tipped off Cato's hand and amazingly went in), and the lead was 29 points and Cato had 15 and 9 boards.
But the Rockets got lazy, and the Hawks trimmed the lead by 16 points down to 13.