So many heroes.
So many heroes stepped up to the plate for the Rockets Thursday night as they pulled out a gusty 109-105 overtime win over the Nuggets in Denver, upping their record to 9-7.
There's Steve Francis, torching Nick Van Exel (missed 13 of 18 shots) early on to hit 7 of his first 9 shots and finish with 22 points, 7 boards and 6 assists.
There's Cuttino Mobley, using and abusing Nuggets defenders on isolations to the run off 22 points (16 after halftime) and 5 boards. "Cuttino was tremendous in the second half," said Rudy T. "He's an amazing player."
There's Hakeem Olajuwon, hitting a tough jumper with 9 seconds to go and the Rockets trailing by one... a shot that proved critical in sending the game in to overtime, then Dream nailing another bucket and picking a key steal in overtime.
Then there's Kenny Thomas. Not only did he score a season high 18 points to go with 6 boards, but he hit the shot of his life (yes, even bigger than the "shot of his life" in Miami) in overtime. KT missed 4 of his first 5 three-point attempts but didn't miss the clutch trifecta with 1:39 to go from the top of the key that made a 100-99 game a 4-point Rocket bulge.
Of course the Nuggets had one collosal-sized hero in Antonio McDyess, who played Superman (as he usually does against the Rocks) going agro for 40 points (15-28 shooting) and 20 boards, including 9 offensive. He was a man among boys in the paint.... though no doubt he'd prefer the win.
"It's tough to lose when I played as well as I did. It's hard to swallow," said McDyess, who nearly signed with the Rockets in the summer of 1998 when the Rockets ultimately settled for Quitten.
The Rockets also had some nice complimentary performances... Shandon Anderson had 8 points, 6 boards and 4 assists while Carlos Rogers nailed all 4 of his shots for 8 points. Maurice Taylor was a foul waiting to happen -- he scored 8 points, all in the first quarter, and fouled out after playing just 16 minutes.
Though the Rockets pulled out the win and had its fair share of heroes, there were some serious problems as well that nearly cost them the game.
Free throws and defensive boards.
The Rockets bricked 19 free throws -- nineteen -- hitting 54% from the line (23-42) on the night. Mobley surprisingly enough was 5-11 from the line... Hakeem just 1-6.
The Nuggets also dominated the glass, beating Houston 51-41 on the boards and 17-11 offensively.
Considering those numbers the Rockets were lucky to pull out the game... not to mention Denver bricked 10 of its 11 threes... in fact the lone make was a desperation by Raef LaFrentz (16 points, 5 blocks) late in the game.
The game started out with hot shooting... before you could blink it seemed Denver led 10-8. Mo Taylor couldn't tie the game at the line, missing a pair of free throws, but he made up for it as after a Denver miss, Shandon drove the length of the floor and found Mo for a massive, screaming one-handed jam.
From there the Nuggets went on a 9-2 run, but the Rocks responded with their own 9-2 run. Mo nailed a 20-footer (giving him 8 points), Walt converted a three-point play and Francis nailed a three then hit a technical free throw.
Francis had a nasty dunk on Keon Clark too... blowing by Robert Pack then soaring for a two-handed throwdown over Keon that had the Denver crowd drooling.
Francis and Mo (in early foul trouble) each had 8 after one, but Antonio McDyess had 11 and Denver led 28-25.
Walt and Bullard both were missing threes early, but after one Bullard miss, Francis skied (I mean soared) for a rebound around the free throw line, found Kenny Thomas underneath who picked up a three-point play off the layup and foul in the paint.
McDyess was smoking hot, but after Bullard and Mobley each hit threes the game was tied at 39. Tariq Abdul-Wahad (10 points) and George McCloud each scored quickly, but KT worked McDyess for a turnaround then Moochie found Carlos for a streaking slam and it was 43-43.
Before the half KT nailed a three from the top of the key and Francis knocked down a pair at the line -- it was 51-50 Nuggets at intermission. Kenny Thomas was particularly impressive, leading the Rockets with 12 points. Francis had 10 points, 4 boards and 4 assists.
Early in the third Hakeem scored a couple of buckets and after a Francis three the Rockets led 61-58. Shandon woke up also, after hitting 1-2 free throws Shandon converted a three-point play then made another streaking layup and the Rockets led 67-60.
The Rockets held the Nuggets without a field goal until there was 4:22 left in the third when Voshon Lenard (11 points) hit a jumper to make it 69-64 Houston.
The Nuggets were back in it after Mobley missed a pair of free throws and McDyess responded with a three-point play. Francis scored 9 points in the quarter, but it was McDyess who went off for 16, giving him 31 through three. The third quarter ended tied at 76.
Mobley picked Abdul-Wahad to start the fourth and headed the other way for a slam, giving Houston a 78-76 lead.
The Rockets led 85-82 with the ball, but couldn't stop McDyess. He nailed a turnaround, then a 16-footer, then missed a shot, outhustled the entire Rockets squad for his own offensive board which resulted in another Nuggets slam by Posey. Nick Van Exel added another jumper, then after a Cuttino miss Van Exel again scored, making it 92-87 Denver with 5:35 left.
Costly error by the Rockets... after a Nuggets miss they again got their own board and Voshon Lenard put a drive in the hoop, putting Denver up 94-88 with just over 3 and a half minutes to go.
Hakeem was fouled underneath, made 1-2 and Kenny Thomas' hustle got the Rockets the ball back. Mobley drove on Lafrentz, got the hoop and foul and it was 94-91 Denver. But Mobley missed the free throw (he was 1-5 from the line at this point).
At exactly the 2-minute mark Mobley scored on a beautiful drive, cutting the lead to 1 but Van Exel responded immediately with a jumper, making it 96-93 Denver.
Kenny Thomas was clobbered three times with less than a minute to go and couldn't buy a call.
But still the Rockets had another chance... down 96-95. Posey missed a three and Mobley got the board, calling a timeout with 19 seconds left.
Francis brought the ball up, stopped to the left of the free throw line and looked like he made an errant pass to Shandon Anderson.
Fortunately, Hakeem Olajuwon caught it. He squared up, fired from 15 on the right wing and hit nothing but net. 9.3 seconds left, timeout Denver.
After fouling McDyess because they had one to give, the Nuggets threw a perfect alleyoop to McDyess for an emphatic slam with 7 seconds to go. Crowd in Denver erupted...
Francis took the inbounds and drove to the left of the hoop and was fouled with 3.2 ticks left by Van Exel. But as was the story all night, Francis missed the first free throw, making the second to tie the game at 98.
After a Nuggets timeout, Van Exel took the inbounds, drove but lost the ball on the drive as time expired.
OVERTIME. Francis had 22-7-6 and Mobley 18 points through regulation, but McDyess had 39 points and 14 boards. Good gosh.
After a few misses on both sides, Hakeem opened the scoring by spinning past McDyess for a deuce, but he couldn't help out a minute later, going to the line and bricking a pair of free throws. Lafrentz hit 1-2 free throws to make it 100-99 Houston.
Mobley threw up his second brick of the overtime period, but Hakeem picked a Nuggets pass with 2 minutes to go. After working the ball around the horn again, Kenny Thomas wound up with it at the top of the key beyond the three-point line. He set, he fired...
BINGO!! Just like in Miami, Kenny Thomas hit a HUGE three and the Rockets led 103-99 with 1:39 to go.
McDyess made 1-2 free throws, then Mobley milked the clock and pulled off an unbelievable reverse layup with two defenders draped over him, and the Rockets led 105-100 with 56 seconds left.
The Rockets played wonderful defense, forcing Van Exel to make an errant pass that ended up in KT's hands and from there the Rockets had enough left to pull it out.