HOUSTON, Oct. 30 (AP) -- The Houston Rockets opened the season without Hakeem Olajuwon. Their offense was missing, too.


Atlanta's Toni Kukoc makes a spirited drive to the hoop against the Rockets. Bill Baptist NBAE/Getty Images
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Steve Francis scored 23 points, including seven in overtime, helping the Houston Rockets start the post-Olajuwon era with an 89-84 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.

"You're going to have those games when you can't put the ball in the ocean," Francis said. "But we did a good job of playing in the clutch. I'm glad we got this one out of our way. The only thing we can do from here is go up."

The Rockets, playing without the traded Olajuwon for the first time in 17 seasons, pushed their lead to 10 with 6:48 left in the third quarter. Olajuwon is now playing in Toronto.

"It was a game I don't think we clicked at all offensively," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "We made the game hard on ourselves. We didn't shoot the ball well at all. But we've preached to them many times, that there would be nights like that in the NBA.

"When they happen, defense has got to carry us. That's why we've dedicated ourselves to play defense. It's got to be part of our identity and it was tonight."

Atlanta closed within 70-64 with 8:24 remaining. Houston went 4:02 without scoring, and the Hawks tied it at 70. The Rockets managed only 13 fourth-quarter points.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, traded to the Hawks from Vancouver in the offseason, finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds.

Abdur-Rahim tied it at 76 with 1:02 left. Kevin Willis misfired with 37 seconds remaining, Abdur-Rahim turned the ball over with 23 seconds left, and Willis missed with one second left.

After Willis' second miss, a shot at the buzzer by Toni Kukoc was blocked by Glen Rice.

Francis converted a three-point play early in overtime, and the Rockets never trailed.

Cuttino Mobley led the Rockets with 21 points and seven rebounds.

"They have a lot of young guys, and they can play defense," Jason Terry said. "They have a good combination with Mobley and Francis. They always come through for them night after night. Right now, it's early in the season but they're really going to get a lot better."

The Rockets, who led 45-41 at halftime, used a 9-0 run to take a 58-48 lead with 6:48 left in the third quarter.

Kelvin Cato hit two straight baskets, Mobley added a 3-pointer and Kenny Thomas also scored in Houston's run.

Houston trailed much of the first half, but Willis, obtained in an Oct. 22 trade, tied it at 28 with 9:05 left in the second quarter.

Mobley scored seven points in a run that helped the Rockets to a 45-37 lead late in the first half.

"We had an opportunity to win it," Abdur-Rahim said. "It was a hard-fought game. There were plays to make and we didn't execute them. I have to be strong with the ball and I have to do better. There are no excuses."

Notes: The Rockets are 18-17 on opening night. They snapped a three-game losing streak in season openers. ... The Hawks face the Washington Wizards and Michael Jordan in their home opener on Thursday. ... Alan Henderson is on the Hawks' injury list with an inflammation in his right knee.