The reign is over.
Facing the Sacramento Kings, a team that has beat them 9 straight times and 12 of their last 13, the Rockets rose to the occasion Tuesday night, roughing up probably the best team in the entire league 103-96 in the Compaq Center.
The win ups the Rockets mark to 12-8, but more importantly it sends a message that they're ready to be counted among the big boys in the West.
If you did not watch this game, I pity you. You missed a beauty and all those dead quiet fans in the Laptop got to see the Rockets at their best this season.
Steve Francis had one of his best games, scoring 32 points, 7 boards, 5 assists and 3 steals. He nailed two triples, one of which was a 27-foot bomb to end the first quarter. He went toe-to-toe with Bobby Jackson (27 points, 7 boards, 6 assists) in the third period in what was a terrific scoring duel to watch.
Don't be fooled by the fact that Yao Ming had a bad shooting game -- the big boy played extremely well. He's just a breath of fresh frickin' air to watch. The intelligence in which he plays the game just gets me excited... how he makes the smart pass, or waits for the double team, or uses his height to knock balls out to the guards.
There was one particular play that was amazing - the ball was thrown to Yao posting up to the right of the basket, closer to the baseline. It was a bad pass, nearly picked off, but Yao just "scooped" it, in one motion redirecting it to Francis on the baseline who jetted in for the reverse layup.
It was simply awesome.
He hit just 5-14 shots, which would be extremely low for Yao, but he finished with 17 points, 15 boards and 4 blocks, and made big plays down the stretch. When the Kings were charging hard and threatening to finish a huge comeback, it was Yao the Rockets relied on, getting the ball to him in the paint and working from there.
A sign of a maturing club? I sure hope so.
I really liked how Cuttino Mobley played this game, with the exception of a few boneheaded things late, but I'm willing to overlook that. His defense was very energetic (3 steals) and Cuttino also had 4 dimes - all in the first half. He finished with 14 points and 7 boards, though he shot just 5-15 from the floor.
In particular in the second quarter, Mobley looked very impressive with the second team when he and Eddie Griffin kept the offense going.
Speaking of Griffin, he nailed three triples in the second quarter, helping the Rockets build up a 19-point lead. 11 of Eddie's 13 came in the first half when the Rockets shot 51.2% from the floor (compared to the Kings 39.1% shooting), hit 15-16 from the free throw line and scored 62 points, the most the Rockets have scored in a half this year.
Griffin then committed a few blunders, fouling Chris Webber (30 points, 11 boards) with 0.6 seconds left in the half and the Rockets up 19. Webber missed both freebies, but Griffin didn't box out on the play and Jim Jackson slipped in for the tip-in.
You worried that not only did Griffin give up on the play, but the Rockets were giving up also as the Kings came out in the third roaring.
Behind Webber's play, Sacramento charged to within seven, but that's when Francis stepped up to cool the rally. Boy Glen Rice did just about nothing in this game, but when Francis found him on a fast break for an alleyoop slam (yeah, I didn't think Rice could still slam in a game either), it was a huge break for the Rockets as they seized momentum once again.