HOUSTON, March 5 (Ticker) -- Steve Francis scored 35 points and the Houston Rockets overcame a 17-point deficit and a season high-tying 43-point effort by Vince Carter to hand the Toronto Raptors their 12th straight loss, 112-109.

Francis, who fell one point shy of matching his career high, added six rebounds and seven assists. He also led the charge in the third quarter, scoring 11 points in a 21-7 burst.

"I was in a rhythm. I was mentally focused," Francis said. "I was taking what they gave me. I felt great shooting the ball."

"They got back in the game in the third quarter," Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens said. "We had some crucial turnovers that period that led to baskets and those really hurt us."

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Steve Francis helped the Rockets overcome heavy hearts and a large deficit in Hakeem's return.
Bill Baptist
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It was the first game back for future Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. When starting lineups were announced, Olajuwon received a standing ovation lasting over a minute.

"It was very nice of the fans to do what they did and I'm very happy they did it," Olajuwon said. "Ever since I made the decision to go to Toronto I thought about what tonight would be like. I expected this, but it was very nice to get the warm welcome. I'm glad it's over, it's time to move on."

Houston took the lead for good, 104-102, on Cuttino Mobley's three-point play with 2:10 remaining. He followed with a dunk and Walt Williams nailed a 3-pointer for a 109-102 edge. Carter scored all seven of Toronto's points thereafter but the comeback bid fell short as Francis hit two free throws and Moochie Norris sank one.

Mobley contributed 23 points and Eddie Griffin chipped in 17 -- 11 in the third quarter -- as the Rockets improved to 6-1 all time at home against Toronto.

Carter was 18-of-31 from the field but his 10th career 40-point game was not enough to prevent the Raptors from continuing their longest slide since a 13-game losing streak from March 20-April 12, 1998.

Kenny Thomas had 16 points and nine rebounds and Williams added 14 points and six boards as the Rockets shot 54 percent (43-of-80) from the field.

Jerome Williams scored 20 points and Alvin Williams collected 10 points and nine assists for Toronto, which also shot well, hitting at a 50 percent (44-of-88) clip and committing only six turnovers.

The Rockets trailed, 68-51, three minutes into the third, before Francis led them back. They closed to within 83-82 going into the final quarter.

With the win, Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich tied Billy Cunningham for 25th on the all-time list with 454 career victories.