Does every game have to be like this?
Watching a 10-point lead whittle down to a 6-point deficit with just over 5 minutes to go, the Rockets sucked it up as Maurice Taylor had a huge fourth quarter and Afro Thunder Moochie Norris hit a clutch 20-footer with 37 seconds left as the Rockets held on to beat the New Jersey Nets 108-106 Thursday night.
The win, coupled with the Timberwolves' 83-103 loss in Dallas, brings the Rockets (37-29) to within a game of the 8th and final playoff seed out West.
The victory wasn't all shiny-happy... Steve Francis banged knees with a Nets player late in the second quarter, headed to the locker room and did not return. We're awaiting word on his status.
Player of the game? Cuttino Mobley. Without a doubt. Mo was huge and Moochie hit a big shot, but in the absence of Francis it was Mobley who stepped up and stepped up big. He shot well, passed well and hit the glass.
4 boards shy of a triple double and he put up some colossal numbers. 30 points on 11-18 shooting, 11 assists (Cuttino?) and 6 boards.
Suddenly the high-scoring kitty is looking pretty damn versatile.
Taylor finished with 25 points on 10-19 shooting and scored 8 of his 25 points in the final 3-4 minutes. He literally saved the Rockets' collective hides as they were down 6 with 5 minutes to go.
Mo had a lot of praise for Coach T after the game. Said Mo: "Rudy has given me a lot of confidence. In the time out, he said if the ball swings my way to take the shot."
Moochie again was a machine, scoring 17 points, 8 boards and 5 assists, and hitting one huge shot from the baseline with 37 seconds left.
Tell me, how does a Moochie go about cleaning the glass for 8 boards and Mo Taylor just 3 in 12 less minutes than Mo? I digress.
Kenny Thomas played well off the bench, stroking 4 of his 5 shots for 10 points. Kelvin Cato chimed in with 10 points (6 in the first quarter) and 5 boards while Shandon Anderson added 7.
The beauty of this is even though the Rockets are playing close games against some of the weaker teams in the league, these are games they probably would have lost last season. This team has balls in the fourth... they have been hitting some big shots as of late.
Speaking of hitting shots, both teams did -- the Rocks hit to the tune of 56% while New Jersey 53%.
Good gosh Stephon Marbury was lighting it up for the Nets... he scored 34 points and handed out 9 dimes but he missed two huge shots in the final minute. Keith Van Horn added 21 and Johnny Newman 19.
Keith Van Horn was hot early... he nailed two triples, the second of which put New Jersey up 13-6, but the Rockets went on a charge from there. When Cuttino scored then Cato, the Rockets capped a 14-4 run to take a 20-17 lead.
The Rockets led 22-19 after one, thanks to 8 by Mo and 6 from Cato (believe it or not).
Cuttino got smoking hot to start the second. He scored 10 points in the first 5 minutes of the second period as the Rockets raced off to a 40-29 lead.
After Moochie scored on a drive and got fouled (missed the free throw), the Rockets led by 10, but a 6-0 burst by the Nets, capped by an 18-footer by Stephon Marbury, cut it to four.
The Rockets responded -- Mobley majorly blocked Van Horn on a drive and took it the other way for two, then KT scored underneath and the Nets called timeout down 8 at 47-39.
When Moochie faked Sherman Douglas up on a three attempt and got fouled, then nailed all three free throws, the scoring at the half was capped and the Rockets led 56-45 at intermission.
The problem is Francis bumped knees with Marbury late in the second quarter, went to the locker room and we learned he would not return for this game. H-o-l-d-i-n-g o-u-r b-r-e-a-t-h...
The Nets didn't lay down and die.... they came out with guns blazing to start the third. After Marbury scored an easy layup and Van Horn another triple, the Nets were within one, and a Johnny Newman deuce capped a 15-3 Nets run and gave New Jersey a 60-59 lead.
The lead see-sawed back and forth for a while until the Rockets burst out on an 8-0 run, capped by buckets by Mo and Shandon, and Houston led 80-72. When Shandon Anderson knocked down a triple, the lead was 83-74.
The Rockets led 85-78 through three. Mobley led the Rockets with 21 points. Mo Taylor added 15 and Moochie 14.
Johnny Newman came out and hit two three-pointers and Rudy had seen enough. The Rockets called timeout up just 87-84. After the timeout, a Rocket miss was followed by an Aaron Williams tip-in and just like that New Jersey was within one.
Newman hit another three-pointer (his third in the first 3 minutes of the fourth) and the game was tied at 89.
Marbury scored 4 straight and the Nets took the lead 93-92 with just under 8 minutes left. When Marbury hit another long jumper, giving him 34 points, the Nets led 97-94. The Nets hit 1-2 free throws and after a poor Mo Taylor shot, Keith Van Horn scored on a hook in the lane and just like that the Nets led 100-94 and Rudy T had to call timeout again with 5:28 to go.
With just under 4:00 to go Mobley hit a huge three, and when Mo Taylor hit a pair of free throws at the 3:23 mark, the Rockets were within one at 100-99.
The Rockets forced a Nets miss, but Moochie's drive with the shot clock running down was just off and KT knocked the ball out of bounds on the loose ball pursuit with 2:44 to go.
Aaron Williams and Mo Taylor traded buckets then Shandon Anderson had a huge block on Keith Van Horn. On the other end Van Horn fouled Mo Taylor with 1:35 to go. Mo made both -- 103-102 Rockets.
Cato had a sweet block on Johnny Newman from behind but the refs called a foul -- Rudy T went ballistic. Newman gave the Nets the lead by making both freebies with 1:15 to go.
Mo hit a huge jumper from 20-feet out, and Newman responded by trying to drive baseline. He stepped out of bounds with 48 ticks left. Timeout Rockets -- Houston 104, New Jersey 103.
Moochie Norris hit a 20-footer from the baseline with 37 seconds left. Just like he did against the Pacers, he sprinted up the court strutting -- fans going ballistic! 107-104 Houston.
Marbury drove and missed the shot... the board bounced around and out but off the Rockets. The Nets quickly inbounded to Aaron Williams who hit the 17-footer.
With 26 seconds left the Rockets could milk the clock with a 2-second differential. Moochie sat outside the three dribbling out the clock, then drove with about 8 ticks left. He was fouled on a drive with 5.7 seconds left and the shot just rimmed out.
Moochie missed his first free throw. He made the second. 108-106 Rockets with 5.7 ticks left. Timeout New Jersey.