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1/31/2002 - Houston Chronicle
Rockets let game slip away
Rockets drop heartbreaker to Hornets on last-second shot 73-72
By Jeff

How often can we say that. They combined for only 34 points but had 32 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. Thomas, Griffin and Cato were all in double-digits in rebounds and their defense was tough down the stretch.
Sure, he had 16 points and 10 assits but the guy shot 7-22 and was essentially a non-factor despite the fact that Steve Francis wasn't staring him down on the defensive end. Instead of blowing up, he imploded. Thanks, Baron!
More mistakes. Another loss.

The Rockets, going it again without Steve Francis who was battling another migraine, fought their way back from a 14-point, third quarter deficit to have the lead with 5 seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, the ball bounced the wrong way.

Down 72-71, the Hornets inbound the ball and attempted to get it to Elden Campbell but Kenny Thomas went for the steal knocking it loose. Normally, this wouldn't be a bad thing. The only problem was that Thomas' man, Lee Nailon, ended up with the ball and an open 15-foot jumper to win the game for Charlotte.

Only seconds earlier, the Rockets were tied when an errant inbounds pass from Eddie Griffin resulted in a Charlotte one-point lead but Thomas would sink two clutch freethrows to go back on top. It wasn't enough.

To call the game ugly would be an insult to ugly people everywhere. Neither team could shoot the ball at all and there were more gaffes on both sides of the ball than you would normally have in two games. For most of the first half, the Rockets had more turnovers than field goals made. Not good.

Campbell had an crazy first quarter scoring 10 of the Hornets first 12. He finished with 21 points and 9 boards to make up for his horrendous outing in last Saturday's loss to Houston. The Rockets mostly countered with Cuttino Mobley who had 23 points (9-21 shooting) including 5 three pointers.

Despite the pretty rough play of Houston, they managed to finish the second quarter with a flurry and stay within 5 at the half. In the third, the Hornets extended their lead out to 14 mainly because Houston shot 24 percent for the quarter. Ugh. However, the lead was only 8 at the end of the third.

Honestly, if it wasn't for Baron Davis Houston wouldn't have been in the game. The almost-all-star guard who had only last week went toe-to-toe with Francis, had no game without Francis. He finished with 16 points and 10 assists but only shot 7-22 from the floor. Most of his points came in the fourth when he attempted to take over during a blistering Rockets run.

The Rockets outscored the Hornets 22-15 in the fourth and were actually leading by 4 with under 2 minutes to go. Scoring came from three's by Moochie Norris and the Cat but it was defense and rebounding that made the comeback possible.

All three of the starters in the frontcourt had double-digit rebound games. Thomas finished with 10 and 13 points on a rough shooting night (3-10). Griffin had 11 boards, 16 points and 3 blocks and Kelvin Cato snapped his streak of double-double's getting only 5 points but contributed with 11 rebounds and some solid defense late.

Still, the four-point lead with under two minutes to go wouldn't be enough because of turnovers that seemed to plague the Rockets all night. With the lead, the Rockets turned it over twice in the final minute-and-a-half and still miraculoulsy had a shot at winning. With the game tied at 70 and less than a minute to go, Griffin fired an inbounds pass to Cato that went right through his hands.

Charlotte was forced to earn their points as Campbell, a 70+ percent freethrow shooter for his career, went to the line and clanked one. Down one, the Rockets got the ball and ran a pick-and-roll with Norris and Thomas. Thomas went hard to the basket and was fouled. At only 68 percent from the line, things did not bode well but Thomas sunk BOTH to give the Rockets the lead with 5 seconds left.

Sadly, it wouldn't be enough. Even overtime would have been ok. The Rockets have played in more overtime games than any other team in the league (7) and are 4-3 in them, but the turnovers and untimely mistakes cost them. Still, a pretty solid effort despite missing their starting point guard.

Jeff can be reached at