Starting off poorly in their first four games and having a 1-3 record to show for it, it didn't look to get much better for the Rockets facing the World Champion Lakers.
Perhaps spurred on by the early (and good) results on the arena referendum vote, the Rockets used 23 points by Steve Francis, 18 by Cuttino Mobley and a strong showing by their frontcourt to completely stun LA 84-74 in the Compaq Center.
The win bumps the Rocks' record up to 2-3.
The Rockets held LA to 74 points which tied the lowest point total in the history of the Laker franchise since it moved to Los Angeles.
Major props to the trio that has taken probably the most abuse so far this season: The frontcourt combo of Hakeem Olajuwon, Maurice Taylor and Jason Collier.
Olajuwon almost single-handedly got the team going early, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter. He hit 5 of his first 6 shots, grabbed 5 boards and picked 5 steals all the while having to guard Shaquille O'Neal (who by Diesel's standards was "held" to just 24 points and 7 boards) -- and Hakeem did it all in extended playing time (35 minutes) without major fatigue problems.
This beer's for you Dream.
Another unsung hero: Collier.
The rookie hit 4 of 6 shots, including 3 long jumpers that pulled the Lakers' interior defense out, to finish with 10 points and 4 boards (2 offensive) in just 13 minutes. Never mind he fouled out (that's what happens when you guard Shaq)... Collier stepped up and showed a nice mid-range touch.
Maurice Taylor also scored 10 points, but more importantly grabbed 8 boards in less than 30 minutes. On one play Mo dribbled the length of the court himself and pulled up for a 15-foot bankshot in Horace Grant's noggin'.
Francis played strong, leading the team with 23 points, 7 assists and grabbed 6 boards, however he had his problems, turning the ball over 7 times and missing 10 of his 16 shots (9-9 FT shooting). The outstanding athleticism is there for Francis but he still plays erratically at times.
Ditto Mobley, who missed 3 shots in a row with under 3 minutes to go and all 3 were of the "I will do it myself" variety. Hard to complain when Cat put up 18 points, 6 boards and 4 assists (and damn if he didn't have a nice slam off a Francis alleyoop pass), but when you live and die by the isolation, you have to take some digs.
Shandon Anderson scored 8 points while Matt Bullard, starting in place of Walt Williams, scored 3.
The Rockets held the Lakers to 41.8% shooting, but shot just 40.8% themselves. Kobe Bryant added 15 for the Lakers.
Hakeem surprised the world by going off for 10 points (to go with 3 boards) on 4-5 shooting in the first quarter against Shaq, and that, along with Mo's 6 and 3 gave the Rockets a 22-20 lead after one.
Then Jason Collier of all people stepped it up, hitting two 17-footers and grabbing a board to get a fast break going that ended in a Kenny-to-Shandon layup. After another Collier bucket it was 30-25 Rockets.
After Francis found Mo Taylor streaking for a slam it was 36-31 Rockets.
When Cuttino found Hakeem for a thunderous one-hand dunk, it was 43-37 Houston, and the half ended with that score.
After Francis put up 5 straight points the Rockets led 50-43, but the Lakers countered with 5 of their own capped by a Rick Fox three.
The Rockets led 58-53 through 3 periods.
The Rockets got going to start the fourth -- after a Francis three-point play, the Rockets led 66-58 with just over 9 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. After Mobley nailed a 20-footer with Rider in his face, the Rockets led 68-60 with 7:50 left in the quarter.
Collier then nailed a tough baseline jumper and Francis stroked a 2 (which gave him 21 points) and the Rockets led by 10, 72-62.
The Lakers ran off 5 straight before a Bullard three made it 75-67 with 4:18 left.
With the Rockets up 76-60, Cuttino missed two ill-advised "take-it-upon-myself" shots sandwiched around an Hakeem offensive board, and Brian Shaw made them pay with a three on the other end, cutting the Rockets lead to 76-73 with just over 2 minutes to go.
After a Shandon miss Hakeem again saved the day, grabbing the offensive board and Cat went to the line, making both.
The Rockets then went in to "Hack-A-Shaq" and it paid off. Shaq missed 1-2, and Shandon countered with 2 freebies of his own with 55 seconds left.
When Kobe missed the following jumper, the place erupted.... the Rockets had their win.