Glen Rice scored a season high-tying 23 points, including a season-best seven 3-pointers, to lead a balanced scoring effort as the Rockets easily defeated the Phoenix Suns, 107-89, for just their second victory in seven games.
“I’m never surprised when I shoot it like that,” Rice said. “They were running away from me and leaving me open. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but (if) somebody is going to do that, I’ll take them.”
Cuttino Mobley added 22 points for the Rockets, who received just five points from Francis, their All-Star point guard, before he exited in the third quarter with a lower back strain.
The Rockets trailed by eight points in the opening minutes but rallied to take a 50-40 edge into the break behind 11 points from Rice and 10 from Moochie Norris.
Houston extended its advantage to 77-61 entering the fourth quarter and blew open the game behind four 3-pointers by Rice in the final period.
“It looked as though we were the ones that got in at 3 in the morning from a game last night,” Suns coach Frank Johnson said. “It looked like they had been here, had two days of practice, rested and were ready for us.”
“Defensive rebounding for us had been an Achilles’ heel, along with getting beat off the dribble, but tonight was probably the worst we have been beaten on the boards,” Johnson said.
“They couldn’t defend our whole team,” said Yao, one of six Rockets to reach double figures. “This is great encouragement as we have a lot of hard games ahead of us.”
With the win, the Rockets kept pace with the Lakers for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot and moved within 1 1/2 games of seventh-place Phoenix.
“What a character win after the devastation of that game yesterday,” said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, whose team lost at Los Angeles, 106-99, after Kobe Bryant scored 52 points, including 17 in the two overtime periods. “We got a big lift from the bench, got the ball moving, got back to our defense, did a great job on the boards - a great job on the boards.”
“I think (this was our biggest win this season) because of the way the situation was,” Mobley said. “We had the eighth spot and we lost a heartbreaker last night. We had to redeem ourselves. If we had lost two in a row, that would have hurt big-time.”
“We got outrebounded dramatically,” Marbury said. “We gave them too many extra chances. You can’t play against a team like that when they’ve got guys that can make shots, know how to make plays, know how to create for each other. You give them second opportunities, you make it a lot tougher for yourself.”
“They came off a tough loss against LA,” said Suns guard Joe Johnson, who scored 14 points. “I think we came in a little lackadaisical, knowing they were on a back-to-back, and we felt like we had an advantage. I think we just came out a little soft.”
With the win, the Rockets took a 2-1 lead in the season series. The teams face each other for the last time March 16 at Houston.
“It’s a game we needed, too, so now they’re one game up on us in the series,” Marion said. “We’ve got to go out there and get one from them next month. That’s all it boils down to.”