“He was nervous,” said Taylor, who scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter of the Rockets’ 105-90 victory over the Clippers on Monday night. “But I told him, `Hey, you have nothing to be nervous about. They love you. It’s me they hate. You got more cheers here than you’re going to get your first game in Houston.”’
Piatkowski, who played in more games for the Clippers’ franchise than anyone except Randy Smith, signed a three-year, $8 million contract with Houston on July 27 after leaving the Clippers as an unrestricted free agent. But he missed the first 12 games and most of the preseason with a sprained left ankle.
“I definitely didn’t want it to work out this way. I wanted to play all the games this season,” Piatkowski said. “I’ve been very fortunate not to have too many injuries in my career, so that’s helped me be in probably the best shape that I’ve been in my whole career.
“I was really ready and prepared for training camp. So to have to go down with a bag ankle sprain the way I did was very frustrating. It was really tough on me, but I’m excited not to be back.”
Piatkowski, who appeared in only three playoff games during his nine seasons in Los Angeles, set Clippers franchise records with 738 3-pointers made, 1,835 attempted, and a .402 percentage from behind the arc. He played had five points in 11 minutes against his ex-teammates after missing his first two shots from 3-point range.
“My shot’s there. It’ll be fine,” Piatkowski said. “The one I knocked down in the second half felt fine. I was in the flow of the game, and I think I’m ready to take off flying. Hopefully, I’ll be contributing on a consistent basis soon.”
Yao Ming scored all 18 of his points in the first half for the Rockets, who tied Dallas for first place in the Midwest Division. Steve Francis, held to four points in Houston’s loss at Portland on Friday night, finished with 19 points and nine assists.
Corey Maggette scored a season-high 33 points for the Clippers, who missed 11 of their first 12 shots and finished with a field- goal percentage of 34.1 against the league’s top defense.
The Rockets, in their first season with Jeff Van Gundy as coach, entered the game leading the league in fewest points allowed per game (81.5) and lowest field goal percentage allowed (.374). When Van Gundy ran the Knicks in 2000-01, New York finished first in the NBA in both categories.
“It’s just a testament to our coach,” Taylor said. “He came in and supplied with a philosophy and supplied us with a system, and we run it. On defense, we’re really an extension of our coach, because everyone knows he’s a defensive-minded coach.
“Last year the knock on us was that we were all isolation players and scorers. Our defense wasn’t that bad, but with Jeff, he has a philosophy and he makes us stick to it, no matter how stubborn we want to be and how much we want to get away from it.”
Clippers scoring leader Quentin Richardson, coming off a career-high 36 points Saturday in a loss at Minnesota, missed all four shots he took and left the game with 3:23 remaining in the first quarter after spraining his left ankle.
“It’s a big loss for us,” Keyon Dooling said. “When we lost `Q,’ he’s pretty much who we’ve been playing through right now with Elton out. So that’s about 70 percent of our offense. Not only does he shoot the ball, but he causes double-teams and gets other guys open.”
Francis hit a 20-foot jumper that gave Houston a 67-51 lead with 5:22 left in the third quarter. The lead dwindled to 73-66 when Clippers center Predrag Drobnjak made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with less than a second left in the period.
But Los Angeles got no closer. Piatkowski opened the fourth quarter with his first 3-pointer in a Houston uniform. Moochie Norris also connected from 3-point range, and Taylor’s three-point play put the Rockets up by 12 with 10 minutes remaining—to the chagrin of the crowd of 16,962.
“I love it when they boo me,” said Taylor, who led the Clippers in scoring during his last two seasons with them. “It got me going, especially in the fourth quarter. Whenever you go into a hostile environment, they’re booing you.But as long as you’ve got your team behind you, you don’t really care.”
The Rockets placed G Mike Wilks on the injured list because of a bruised right shoulder after activating Piatkowski. … Richardson was selected the Western Conference player of the week after leading the Clippers to threestraight victories with averages of 27.3 points and 10.7 rebounds.