What a welcome sight this was.
Steve Francis, absent from 16 of the last 17 games due to injury (and conveniently the Rockets were 1-15 in those affairs), made his big return, but he was the sidebar to the real show.
Cuttino Mobley scored 31 points, his third straight game of 30+, to lead the Rockets to the 100-93 win over the Warriors in Oakland Friday night. After 15 straight losses, it's the Rockets second win in their last 3 games, upping their record to 9-21. Houston has also won 16 of their last 17 road games against Golden State.
Mobley started out jack-happy and shooting poorly... he was 2-9 to start the game.
But then he just erupted. He hit 7 of his next 8 shots, scoring 27 of his 31 in the final three quarters. He nailed a pair of threes and came up with a big block late in the fourth quarter. Mobley still has no conscious with his shot selection, but for the third straight game, he's putting the ball in the hole.
If you watched the game, you saw layup drills in the fourth... by Moochie Norris. He scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, many off penetrating layups, and also handed out 8 assists.
Kenny Thomas may have been equally impressive. Up against Danny Fortson (14 points, 8 boards) and Antawn Jamison (18 points, 10 boards, just 8-22 shooting) for most of the night, KT hit 7-12 shots, scored 20 points and grabbed 13 boards in 33 minutes of play. He left the game with over 5 minutes left in the fourth after taking an elbow in the hip from near-Rocket Marc Jackson. It appeared to be a minor injury, or reaggravation of the groin injury which kept him out a few games, but overall he was strong tonight. 11 of his 20 points came in the first period.
But regardless, the best news was seeing Francis back on the court. In 15 minutes of play he scored 10 points on 4-7 shooting, but it was the electricity he provided when on the floor. He threw a gorgeous alleyoop pass to Kelvin Cato (7 points, 4 boards, 2 blocks) and seemed to have the Rockets moving a little faster.
Eddie Griffin did not start this game, oddly. Rudy went with Walt Williams at the three and kept KT at four. Walt had 9 points and 8 boards and threw down one NASTY hammer jam over shot-blocking ace Adonal Foyle on a fast break.
Meanwhile, while Griffin's offensive game was off (1-7 for 2 points), his rebounding and shot-blocking were top notch. His 13 boards, including 5 offensive, and 5 blocked shots (a new career high -- but doubtful for long) were critical to this win.
Even though Terence Morris missed the two shots he took, I liked how active he was. He grabbed 5 boards in 15 minutes and was tipping balls out to teammates. Offensive is his big problem, and it's where he has looked extremely uncomfortable thus far in the NBA, but hopefully this will come with time (the concern is his first sophomore and junior seasons in college he shot 50% from the field, while his senior season he slipped to 42-43%).
The Rockets held the Warriors to 37.5% shooting, and shot over 45% themselves.
Interestingly, Eddie Griffin did not start this game, despite strong success in the past few games. The Rockets ran Moochie Norris, Cuttino Mobley, Walt Williams, Kenny Thomas and Kelvin Cato. KT came out strong however, hitting his first two shots as the Rockets jumped out to an 8-2 lead. After KT scored again and hit a free throw, followed by a Mobley deuce, the Rockets led 15-8.
Francis came in to the game with 2:38 left in the first and immediately hit a mid-range jumper to get on the board.
After one: Rockets 22, Warriors 19. KT led the Rockets with 11 points on 4-6 shooting.
Francis and Willis scored early to put the Rockets up 26-19, but Chris Mills and Bobby Sura sparked a 10-2 Warriors run to take a 29-28 edge.
Danny Fortson converted a three-point play to make it 42-40 Warriors, then an embarrassing play -- Walt Williams was trying bring the ball up with Steve Francis and Golden State's press had them flustered. Larry Hughes picked a pass clean and took it just 8 feet to his goal for a nasty reverse slam.
But Francis dished a beautiful alleyoop to Cato and Mobley scored on consecutive drives and at halftime it was 46 all.
Francis (10 points) and Mobley (12) each scored 8 points in the second period. Mobley started the game shooting miserably (2-9), but finished having hit his last 3 shots. KT led the Rockets with 13 while Eddie Griffin struggled shooting the ball (just 1-5), but had 3 blocks and 5 boards in 17 minutes.
Antawn Jamison led the Warriors with 10 while Fortson and Hughes each had 8. Terrible shooting game by halftime... the Rockets were hitting 38.3% and the Warriors 37.0%.
Francis was done for the night. Not because of injury or unwillingness (he said his feet felt fine), but because the Rockets didn't want to play him much more than the 15 minutes he got in the first half.
Jamison and Fortson scored early to put the Warriors up 4, but Moochie found Cato for a baseline power slam and Walt drained a triple to give the Rockets the lead.
The Warriors hung tough, but Mobley got in to a zone. He nailed two long mid-range jumpers, then the Rockets got out in to transition and with 6:20 to go, Walt Williams threw down a flying, two-handed hammer dunk over Adonal Foyle. Just plain nasty. When Mobley hit another jumper, the Rockets led 63-59.
Fortson and Hughes each scored to tie it, but Mobley responded with a baseline triple and the Rockets were up 66-63. Golden State had to call timeout -- they couldn't stop Cuttino.
Moochie hit a shot to close the scoring in the third, and it was 74-69 Houston.
Cuttino led the Rockets through three with 23 -- 11 of the which came in the third quarter (remember: he had 18 and 16 in the previous two third quarters).
When Moochie blew right through the heart of the Warriors defense for an easy two, it was 79-71 Houston. Golden State had to call timeout.
Moochie then scored 5 more straight layups, giving him 15 points, and putting the Rockets up 85-76.
When Moochie found Cuttino for a foot-on-the-line deuce, the Rockets led 87-77 with 5:27 to go. Another Golden State timeout.
Didn't help. Mobley and Cato each blocked Warrior shots, then Mobley hit another 18-foot top of the key jumper, and the lead was 12 with over 4 minutes to go.
The Warriors cut it to 89-82 and had the ball, but Griffin blocked Jamison and Cato was fouled on the other end. He made 1-2 to make it 90-82 with just over 2 minutes to go.
Hughes and Walt exchanged baskets, and after Hughes made 1-2 free throws, Moochie made a pair to make it 94-85 Houston with 1:19 to go.
Then the Rockets started to slip.
Mills scored and got fouled by Griffin, who fouled out of the game having put up 13 rebounds and 5 blocks (but shot just 1-7 for 2 points). Moochie missed, then Sura scored quickly and it was 94-90 with 37 seconds left.