If Portland is eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, you can bet they'll be blaming the Houston Rockets.
In a must-win game for the Blazers in the race for one of the top 4 spots in the West (homecourt in the first round of the playoffs), the Rockets were the ones coming out with guns a blazin', taking a 109-103 win in Portland.
The win ups the Rockets' mark to 43-37 with just two games remaining.
Steve Francis was a monster.
The second-year point guard had a brilliant game, tearing it up to the tune of 32 points, 10 assists and 7 boards. He scored 19 of his 32 in the first half and hit 12-19 shots from the floor, including 4-7 from way downtown. He finally got the better of Damon Stoudamire this season, who was held to 13 points on 6-16 shooting.
He was simply amazing. Said Rudy T, "He played one of his best games ever. He made phenomenal shots with guys all over him. And the great players do that."
Francis also had help. 5 other Rockets scored in double figures with him.
Starting with Shandon Anderson. Last season, with the Rockets well out of the playoff hunt, Shandon exploded with a huge game in Portland with the season coming to close, scoring 30 points (on 10-12 shooting) in a 118-105 win on April 5th of last year.
It was deja vu all over again.
Again Shandon came up big, scoring 20 points on 8-14 from the field, and hitting one of his many key buckets with 1:57 to go that helped take the wind out of the Blazers' sails.
Cuttino Mobley wasn't far behind, scoring 18 points and taking it right at Scottie Quitten (though he would score a season-high 28 and grab 13 boards, which ironically enough just about equals his season totals from 1998-99) most of the night. For those keeping track at home, the guard trio scored seventy points to go with 16 boards and 13 assists.
Walt Williams came back after missing three games with an ankle injury, and he responded against his former club. Walt scored 12 points, grabbed 8 boards (the Wizard?) and stroked 3 long balls in 6 attempts.
Moochie Norris scored 11 to go with 6 dimes while Carlos Rogers, seeing the PT, came up big again, scoring 10 and snaring 7 boards. And damn if he didn't have one thunderous dunk in the fourth quarter off a feed from Mobley -- looked like he took two gazelle like strides from the top of the key then threw it down something fierce. Just silenced the Rose Garden.
The Rockets hit just under 55% of their shots, holding the Blazers to under 46%. On top of Quitten's 28, Rasheed Wallace added 21 points for Portland and Dale Davis 14 and 13 boards.
Steve Francis and Shandon Anderson each scored 9 in the first quarter and got the Rockets off to a good start. Shandon scored just before the end of the first to put the Rockets up 26-22 after one.
They started to gain control in the second behind some hot shooting. Did you see the early alleyoop from Francis to Carlos Rogers on the break? Just nasty...
When Cuttino Mobley drove right past his defender for a layin at the midway mark of the period, the Rockets led 43-33.
The Blazers trimmed the lead to 5, but Walt Williams drove and scored, then nailed a triple off a Moochie feed on the break, and the Rockets were back up 10, 50-40.
Francis and Shandon kept the heat on and the Rockets led 58-48 at intermission. The Rockets shot over 61% in the first half.
Steve Francis was en fuego, scoring 9 in the first quarter and 10 in the second for 19 at half, and he had made 8 of 10 shots to go with 7 assists and 4 boards. Shandon Anderson meanwhile was smoking as well, hitting 5-7 shots for 11 points.
The Rockets had a 17-4 edge in fast break points, 32-18 in points in the paint and a 22-15 advantage on the boards -- keep in mind against a much bigger Trailblazers team.
After a foul and (vintage headcase) technical by Rasheed Wallace, Stevie naield a 20-footer to put the Rockets up 62-50 with just over 10 minutes left in the third, but the Blazers scored 6 straight, capped by a thunderous Dale Davis dunk off a Wallace missed three, and the Rockets had to call timeout up 62-56.
After Mobley hit a shot, Quitten scored 5 straight and just like that Portland was within 3.
But Francis hit 1-2 free throws, then a triple with 3:50 left, and the Rockets led 74-67. It didn't last -- Quitten missed a three but the Blazers got the offensive board and found Stoudamire who nailed a trifecta. After Bullard lost the ball, Stoudamire found Quitten on the break for a layin and Rudy T had to call timeout. Rockets 74, Blazers 72.
Mobley was fouled and hit 1-2 free throws, then Carlos hit a pair and when Shandon drove through the defense from the top of the key for a layin, the Rockets were back up 79-72.
81-75 Rockets after three, and Francis had 25 points, 9 assists and 6 boards. Shandon Anderson had 18 and Mobley 14.
Francis scored to start the period, and after he drained yet another three, he had 30 points and the Rockets led 86-77.
The Blazers cut it to 86-80, but Francis responded with an off-baseline 16-footer (with Greg Anthony draped all over him) then Walt nailed a top-of-the-key-three and Houston was up 91-82.
BIG NASTY... when Mobley drove, drew two defenders then dished to a streaking Carlos Rogers for a vicious one-hand slam, the Rocks were up 95-85.
The Blazers couldn't miss, but when Walt Williams nailed a huge three with 4:57 left, the Rockets led 99-89 and a Moochie three following that one made it 102-91. Still, Wallace followed with a score inside and Quitten nailed a three and the Rockets called timeout with 3:21 to go, up 102-96.
Out of the timeout, Walt missed a three, but Dale Davis airballed a 6-foot turnaround. Walt missed another three, but so did Quitten.
That set up Shandon Anderson for a sweet reverse layin with 1:57 to go, putting the Rockets up 8.
After a series of misses, Quitten nailed a jumper and Moochie on the other end hit 1-2 free throws. Timeout Portland with less than a minute to go -- 105-98 Rockets.
Stoudamire and Quitten each missed three attempts and when Walt got the board and was fouled, he made 1-2 free throws. Wallace responded with a quick three and the Blazers fouled Mobley.
He went to the line, making both, and put the Rockets up 108-101.