Moral victories are getting old, but this one was a little different. At least it was exciting!
Despite missing most of their regular starting line up and playing the two-time world champs, Houston managed to keep the game in question until the final seconds losing 107-101, their 15th straight.
This was a game where everything smelled like a loss. The Rocks were without Steve Francis, Glen Rice and Kenny Thomas. They are already missing Mo Taylor for the year and Cuttino Mobley is running on two flat tires. But, it gets worse.
Mobley had a horrible first half going 0-3 with no points, finally forced to the bench with over 8 minutes left in the half with his third foul. Moochie Norris picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and Oscar Torres was hobbled through most of the third and fourth with a sore ankle after coming down on it awkwardly.
How in the hell did this team manage to not get blown out by LA? Well, for one, Kobe Bryant shot 9-26 from the floor and Shaquille O'Neal had a fairly quiet game. But, the story wasn't the poor play of the Lakers.
Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Eddie Griffin to the league! The Rocket rookie had his coming out party with career highs in pretty much every category finishing with 25 points on 10-18 shooting from the field and 3-7 from the three point line, 13 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in 40 minutes of action. The kid was awesome.
It was hard not to imagine just how good he is going to get considering he is only 19 years old. Maybe it was the national television audience or just the fact that he got big minutes, but Griffin looks for real.
Norris even with the foul trouble pitched in a double double of his own with 15 points and 10 assists and Mobley came alive with all 18 of his points in the second half. Walt Williams added 14 and Tierre Brown played important minutes with 12 points.
The Rockets also played turnover-free basketball for the most part committing only 6 turnovers while the Lakers had 12. Well, that's the good news.
The bad news, besides the loss, was the fact that they made too many mistakes down the stretch and let Derek Fisher absolutely go OFF on them for 23 points on seven three pointers. Add Devon George's clutch play down the stretch and ten missed freethrows by the Rockets and you have the ballgame.
The continual dribbling of Norris and crazy shots by Mobley remain a concern. Mobley got absolutely smothered by Bryant in the first half and his only saving grace in the second half was that the same wild, off-balance shots he was throwing up in the first half were going in.
Norris bogged the offense down by dribbling too much as the Lakers overplayed the pick and roll. The ball actually moved better and the team looked better when Mobley and Norris were on the bench.
Moral victories suck, but the Rockets may have to endure a few more. The Bucks come to town Saturday followed by Phoenix, both playoff bound teams. Thomas will be back for both, but the real opportunity for a win could come on the 28th at Golden State as Francis may make his return.
If the Rockets can continue to play this well and get some injured bodies back, they could still salvage the season. We'll see.
Rockets played the game again without Kenny Thomas but Walt Williams was back.
Rockets struggled out of the gate shooting 1-8 to start which turned into a 9-2 Laker lead before a timeout.
Eddie Griffin looked good early with 7 of the Rockets first 8 points and 4 rebounds (2 offensive).
The Lakers extended their defense way out on guards with Kobe Bryant really giving Cuttino Mobley a tough time. In fact, Mobley was 0-3 in the first half leaving after picking up his third foul with 8 minutes left in the second quarter.
Typical of how the game was going, Bryant nailed a three as the shot clock was running out and cato missed the one-handed slam.
Griffin hit a 3 to give him 10 of the first 11 points for the Rockets. Moochie Norris and Griffin, in fact, had all of the Rockets first 18 points. It wasn't until 10 seconds left in the first when Oscar Torres hit a three that another player scored.
Mobley picked up 2nd foul with just over 2 minutes left in the 1st mainly due to Bryant schooling him with 9 early points.
The Rockets shot 33 percent in the first but were down only six 27-21 at the end of the quarter including 13 points from Griffin on 5-5 shooting.
Mobley picked up his third foul with 8:24 left in the 2nd and left the game with no points on 0-3 shooting.
Both teams went nuts from beyond the arc with the Rocks hitting 6 of 11 while the Lakers were 4-5.
Houston pulled within 3 at 41-38 on a terrific inbounds play resulting in a Norris layup. Williams then hit a jumper to make it a 6-0 run and a 1 point deficit.
Houston took their first lead on a great pass from Griffin to Kevin Willis for a dunk with just under 4 minutes left in the half.
The Rockets trailed 53-51 at half including 19 points and 8 rebounds from Griffin who missed only 2 shots! Norris had 9 points and 8 assists.
The stats were remarkably close at the half with 48 to 44 percent shooting (Lakers/Rockets), 14 assists for each team, the Rockets with only 2 turnovers (5 for the Lakers) and both teams shooting well from the three point line (6-10 Lakers, 6-11 Rockets).
Griffin started the second half with a dunk on a fast break and came back to block a Shaquille O'Neal dunk attempt!
The Lakers began to take over in the 3rd going on a 10-0 run putting them up 9 63-54.
With 7:15 left in the quarter, Mobley got his first points on back-to-back three pointers, but Norris picked up his 4th foul with just over 6 minutes left.
After Derek Fisher hit his SIXTH three pointer, the Lakers were up 12. At that point, LA was 10-15 from the three point line. Kobe added a breakaway dunk to put the Lakers up 15, their largest lead of the game.
Houston finished the 3rd down 14, 82-68.
Tierre Brown made some nice moves to start the fourth including a tough layup and the foul. After a Mobley layup, the Rockets were on a 6-0 run.
All of a sudden, after two Brown freethrows, the Rockets were within 6, 84-78, but Bryant hit a pair of finger rolls to push the lead back to 10.
Norris hit a jumper off the glass and a pair of freethrows to cap a 19-6 run by Houston to cut the LA lead to 1 at 88-87.
The teams stayed close until Devon George hit a big three and then grabbed a rebound after two Shaq misses at the line for a three point lead at 95-92 with 3:30 left.
The Lakers then began to pull away as Williams grabbed a big steal but forced the layup at the other end which was blocked by Bryant. Fisher immediately came down to the other end and hit his 7th three pointer to stretch the lead out to 98-92.
Then, Willis missed a pair freethrows on a great drive and dish by Norris - two of TEN missed by the Rocks on the night - while Shaq hit both of his on the other end.
With under a minute left and the lakers up 8, Mobley hit a big jumper, Torres grabbed a steal on the inbounds for a dunk to get it to 103-99. Despite another jumper by Mobley, George and Bryant hit their freethrows and that was the ballgame.
Jeff Balke can be reached at email@example.com