The Rockets, in the last two games, have been a tough team to beat down the stretch.
Six Rockets scored in double figures and Kelvin Cato and Cuttino Mobley each came up big in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Rockets overcame 35 points from Stephon Marbury to beat the New Jersey Nets 99-92 in 5 periods.
After 5 straight losses, the win is the Rockets' third in a row and puts their record at 24-35.
Cato had no points at all going into the fourth quarter, scoring all 11 he ended up with in the final period and extra 5-minute frame. In 26 minutes Big Kelvin hit 4-9 shots, grabbed 7 boards and rejected 5 shots by the Nets.
It was Cato's catch, slam and foul off the baseline with 1:03 left in overtime that broke a tie and gave the Rockets a 3-point edge -- the game-deciding edge.
Mobley was just as tough down the stretch, particularly in the fourth quarter when he hit several tough shots to get the offense going. Mobley scored 8 of his 14 in the fourth, and finished also with 7 boards. His 4 free throws after Cato's slam sealed the game.
Steve Francis started out hot, scoring 9 points in the first period as the Rockets took a 27-18 edge, but was cold from there on until late in the fourth. His counterpart, Stephon Marbury, was just amazing -- getting to the basket almost at will and hitting 14-26 shots for 35 points.
Both players were complimentary of each other after the game. Said Steve on Stephon: "He knows how to get to the basket. He's really a great player."
Stephon countered, saying, "Francis played extremely well. He did exactly what he was supposed to do."
And late, Francis did get the job done. He finished with 15 points, 8 boards and 3 assists (5 turnovers). He still seems to lack confidence at times, losing the ball often while trying to make moves, but late he made some tough shots and some nice passes.
Also having a very solid game was Kenny Thomas, scoring 12 points to go with 8 boards and 5 assists. Hakeem Olajuwon added 12 points, 7 boards and 3 blocks in 24 minutes. Shandon Anderson knocked down 13 points.
The Rockets shot 45.5% to the Nets 38.5% and also held a 53-37 edge on the boards and 13-4 in blocked shots.
Picking up action late in the fourth quarter, the Rockets hit a wall offensively and the Nets took advantage. With the Rockets down 81-77, Cato fouled Marbury with a little over 2:20 to go to put him at the line. Just seemed the Rockets were giving up... but Marbury made just 1-2.
Shandon Anderson snapped the Rockets out of a funk, draining a baseline three that cut the lead to 82-80. After a Kendall Gill miss, Francis broke some ankles on a crossover on a fast break and found Kenny Thomas who was fouled. He made both free throws to tie the game. The Rockets then stripped the ball from Marbury on a drive, then Francis found Cato underneath for two to take the lead.
Marbury tied the game with just under a minute to go, but Shandon found Cato underneath for a titanic slam to regain the lead 86-84.
Marbury missed a three-pointer, but Evan Eschmeyer stole the offensive board, found Marbury who banked in a 6-foot runner to tie it up with just over 15 seconds to go.
But the Rockets last play in regulation was disgusting. Mobley walked the ball up court, stopped about 35 feet from the basket and milked the clock for an isolation. It was obvious he was milking way too much clock. With 4 seconds left he threw it to Francis who had no choice but to throw up a desperation, off balance three that airballed.
No excuse for that. 15 seconds was plenty of time to get off atleast a decent look.
In overtime the Nets got the early jump, but the Rockets hung close and after a Francis isolation where he went by Stephon Marbury and banked in a tough runner, the game was tied.