Rockets 90, Clippers 85

Preview | Box Score | Recap

HOUSTON (AP)—After defeating quality opponents—Minnesota and Dallas—in successive games, the Houston Rockets almost stumbled against the lowly Los Angeles Clippers.

Steve Francis had 24 points and Yao Ming scored eight of his 19 points in a fourth-quarter rally in the Houston Rockets’ 90-85 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.

“The important thing was at the key moments we were able to pick it up,” Yao said. “It was something that came from within. We beat the Mavs and the T-wolves, and we didn’t want to lose to these guys.”

The Rockets gained their third straight victory and their fifth in a row over the Clippers, but it took a final-period spurt to do it.

“There was some ugly, there was some pretty,” guard Mark Jackson said. “The main thing is just getting the job done. And the good news is we’re doing that now.”

Trailing 73-71 in the fourth quarter, Houston got the ball on a turnover by Bobby Simmons and Yao’s basket tied it with 8:20 to play. A bad pass by Eddie House gave the Rockets their chance to go ahead, and Yao dunked for a 75-73 lead.

The Rockets never trailed again, sending the Clippers to their seventh loss in nine games.

Corey Maggette led Los Angeles with 26 points and Elton Brand added 16.

“Our team did a lot of good things on defense but turnovers hurt us and the guys that were out hurt us,” Maggette said. “Steve Francis made some great plays for them and Mark Jackson did a good job off the bench.”

Francis, in a shooting slump this season, hit 10 of 15 shots, helping the Rockets overcome a slow shooting start. Maurice Taylor had 15 points.

“Steve’s effort is what carried us,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “His hustle plays and his extra effort were just terrific.”

Trailing 63-56 in the closing minutes of the third quarter, the Rockets scored nine straight points, ending with Francis’ 3-point basket with 4 seconds left for a 65-63 lead, one of Houston’s few advantages in the game.

It was short-lived because Maggette hit a 29-footer at the buzzer for a 66-65 lead going into the final period.

The Clippers led most of the first half and broke from a 36-34 deficit late in the second quarter for a 39-36 halftime lead.

Maggette had a dunk and free throw and Predrag Drobnjak sank a hook shot to give Los Angeles the advantage at intermission.

Francis scored Houston’s first seven points for a 7-4 lead, but the Clippers got 10 first-quarter points from Maggette for a 20-18 lead at the end of the opening period.

Yao presented too many problems for the Clippers defense.

“There is nothing you can do against him,” said Chris Kaman, who fouled out in the fourth quarter. “If you beat him up, he’s a good free throw shooter so he gets to the line and makes them. If you don’t beat him up, he’s tough tostop.”

Notes

Yao had hit 32 straight free throws, including his first two Tuesday night, before missing on his third attempt with 3:06 left in the second quarter. He hit 11 of 12 on the night. Yao hadn’t missed a free throw since Feb. 27 against Portland. … Quentin Richardson has a sprained back. … Brand has 34 double-doubles this season. He’s fifth in the NBA in that category. …The Rockets have used the same starting lineup in 60 of 63 games this season.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 LA Clippers
C. Maggette C. Maggette
7-15,  26 Pts
8 Rebs, 4 Assists
 Houston
S. Francis S. Francis
10-15,  24 Pts
4 Rebs, 7 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists