God bless Moochie Norris.
The Rockets backup point guard helped fuel an amazing fourth quarter Rocket comeback, and nailed a three-point bomb (see video) at the buzzer to break a tie and give the Rockets a 103-100 win over Phoenix in the land of the Sun.
The win ups the Rockets' mark to 3-1 and more importantly, showed the team has a lot of heart.
What a shot! Steve Francis (13 points, 7 assists) tried to penetrate and threw it out just off dead center top of the key to Mooch, who immediately fired up the triple. It swished as the horn sounded and an elated Mooch ran over to former Rocket Eddie Johnson (now a Suns announcer). Said Mooch, "I went over and told Eddie that if they leave me, I'm going to win the game. I knew there was going to be a gap for them to give me the ball, I just didn't know what side it was going to be on."
It was eerily similar to last season, when Mooch nailed a 35-foot bomb at the buzzer to beat the Warriors.
Last year, the Rockets probably would have lost this game. Unable to stop Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway (31 points) and Stephon Marbury (27) all night, it looked like the Rockets were ready to throw in the towel, down 15 early in the fourth.
Instead, Moochie (4-5 shooting, 9 points, 6 assists), Walt Williams and a red-hot Cuttino Mobley sparked a tremendous fourth quarter rally, closing the period on a 30-12 run.
Mobley was simply outstanding in this game. He hit 6-7 from beyond the arc, scoring 26 points, and for the season so far he has drained 15 of 19 threes (79%). Sweet Moses... the guy is having an exceptional season so far and without him, the Rockets lose this game. Easily.
Finally though, the Rockets broke out of their shooting slump. They hit over 53% of their shots, and called bullseye on 10-16 from three-point range.
Kenny Thomas had a very big game, scoring 16 points and grabbing 8 boards, but unlike Kenny, he shot very well from the field: 7 for 11. Give props to Walt too. The Wizard did not play well at all in the first 3 games, but in the fourth quarter he hit a ballsy three with 3:06 left in the game, and made a gorgeous pass to Kevin Willis (12 points, 8 rebounds) for two after drawing the defense.
Speaking of Big Kev, he had a monster block (cough, cough goaltend) with 14.8 seconds left that set up Moochie's shot. In all honesty, where would the Rockets be without Willis? What a trade that has been. This team would be lucky to be 1-3 without him. No way are they getting 10 points and 11 boards from a Kelvin Cato (7 points, 5 boards, 2 blocks) backup on the team (hint, hint Jason Collier).
Glen Rice added 10 points, going 5-11 from the field, but was 0-4 from long range, pushing his season total to 1-13. Eddie Griffin played just 5 minutes, but hit a triple and Oscar Torres got his first NBA points, a slam in the second quarter.
Very big win... the Rockets easily could have left Phoenix with a 2-2 record. Now they come back home and get ready for Willis' old team Denver.
Glen Rice opened the scoring with a jumper, and after Francis found Cato for an alleyoop jam and Mobley nailed a three, the Rockets led 9-5. The Rockets interior defense was exposed though as three straight times the Suns scored going to the hoop virtually uncontested.
Still, after Francis nailed a three, another jumper and KT went right around Shawn Marion for a deuce, the Rockets led 18-15. Rice scored again (his 5th and 6th points of the period), and it was 20-15 Rockets. Phoenix finished stronger though and after one, it was 23-all. Francis and Rice led the Rockets with 6 each in the quarter.
After an Oscar Torres slam (his first points of the season), the game was tied at 29, but Phoenix didn't miss often. Eddie Griffin came off the bench and hit a three, but things went downhill quick from there. Next play Griffin threw up a bomb (25-feet atleast) and missed, and Stephon Marbury, Jake Tsakalidis and Penny Hardaway scored the next three baskets. After Kevin Willis bricked an ill-advised 18-footer, Hardaway hit a three and Houston had to call timeout, down 42-34.
The timeout didn't help -- Marbury scored 4 more points, boosting their lead to 12. Francis ended the 11-0 Suns run by going to the line and making a pair, but Tom Gugliotta and Penny countered with jumpers and it was 50-36 Phoenix. The Rockets had missed 8 of their last 9 shots.
With just over a minute left, Cuttino Mobley stepped up, nailing back-to-back threes, and the Rockets were within 52-44. But John Wallace and Hardaway closed the half with baskets and at intermission it was 56-45 Suns. Cuttino led the Rockets with 11 while KT had 10. Francis added 8. But it was Phoenix' guard duo of Marbury (16 points) and Hardaway (15) doing the damage.
Phoenix built the lead up to 60-45 early in the third, but an 8-0 run, capped by two Kenny Thomas buckets, cut it to a 7-point deficit. Phoenix built it back up to 12, but a Mobley to Cato vicious alleyoop made it 69-60 and a Mobley triple after a Hardaway jumper made it 71-63.
After Mobley drained a jumper over Hardaway then made a pair of free throws, the Rockets were within 72-67, but Hardaway responded with a 3-point play to bump the Suns lead back up to 8. Kenny Thomas closed the scoring of the third with a 17-footer and it was 79-71 Phooenix through three.
Hardaway had 24 at this point for the Suns while Marbury was right behind him with 23. Mobley led the Rockets with 20 and Kenny Thomas had 16 (on 7-11 shooting) and 8 boards.
The Rockets came out very sloppy to start the fourth.... Phoenix scored 4 quick points. Then Mobley penetrated, drew the defense and passed it to Willis in traffic. It bounced off Willis' hands and Mobley threw his hands up in the air in disgust. As this was unfolding, the Suns simply threw it downcourt to a streaking Marbury who scored the all-alone layin. Timeout Rockets.
Phoenix had to call timeout a few minutes later though as the Rockets, led by Moochie Norris, went on a 6-0 run, cutting the lead to 88-79.
After a nice defensive stop, Mobley nailed his fifth three-pointer of the game (in only 6 attempts), and the Rockets closed to within 88-82 with 6:31 left. After Shawn Marion lost the ball and miraculously got it back and put it in, Phoenix was back up 8. But Francis got a deuce on a goaltending call, then Moochie found Walt in transition for a layup, then the Mooch BURNED a defender for a a running jumper...
He worked his man on that play so badly that Calvin Murphy, announcing the game, went ballistic. "Leave him alone Mooch!! That's not fair! His family is watching!"
After Marbury missed a pair of free throws, Willis made 1-2 to make it 90-89 Suns.
A questionable defensive 3 second technical call made it 91-89 Suns, but Walt Williams gave the Rockets the lead with 3:06 left with a three-pointer. Marbury answered immediately with a jumper. 93-92 Suns.
The Rockets then found Kevin Willis, who scored and got the foul with 2:32 left! After he made the FT, the Rockets were on a 22-5 run at this point over the last 7:22.
Gugliotta hit a jumper from the baseline to tie it up at 95, but Mobley responded with a HUGE triple (his 6th). But Hardaway travelled, the refs ignored it, and he got the bucket and a foul. His FT tied it at 98 with 1:43 left.
Walt found Willis underneath for a slam with 1:31 to go. But the Rockets blew two chances to get the rebound, and Hardaway got the ball, went baseline and slammed it home with exactly one minute to go. 100-100.
Mobley missed a fadeaway jumper and Phoenix got the ball with 37 seconds left. They worked it to Hardaway, he turned and fired a baseline jumper and it bounced errant. Tsakalidis got the board, put it back up and Willis rejected it! Hell yeah it was goaltending -- but no call. Things even out I guess.
Timeout Rockets, 14.8 seconds left.
Francis dribbled out a lot of clock.... too much in fact. He drove, got shut down by Marion and threw it out in desperation to Moochie as the clock was running down. Moochie got it, tossed up a triple...