BOSTON, Feb. 24 (Ticker) --
Down the stretch, the Boston Celtics could not stop the Houston Rockets' backcourt of Steve Francis
and Cuttino Mobley
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Francis, who was battling a sore lower back, and Mobley combined
for 20 of their team's final 22 points as the Rockets rallied
from a late 15-point deficit to defeat the Celtics, 101-95, in
With the victory, the Rockets moved one-half game ahead of
Phoenix, which lost at Chicago, for the eighth and final Western
Conference playoff berth.
Francis collected 33 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and
Mobley added a season-high 31 points and 10 rebounds for the
Rockets, who have beaten the Celtics a franchise-record five
straight times. Houston has not lost to Boston since November
"It's the same way it was before the game, a little sore," said
Francis of his back, which caused him to miss his team's victory
over Memphis on Saturday. "My team really needed me and I
thought I stepped up and played a really solid game against a
good team tonight."
Houston trailed, 83-68, with seven minutes to play and by seven
points with just under 3 1/2 minutes left before Mobley
sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a three-point play to
even the contest, 88-88, with 1:29 left.
"We decided to take it on (in the fourth quarter)," Mobley said.
"It was a sense of urgency. We were concentrating on our shots
and playing hard (defense)."
"Cuttino was phenomenal," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.
"He's been repositioning and in those situations and this time
he let (the shots) fly. Big, big shots."
Neither team scored again in regulation, with Boston's Paul
rimming out a jumper just before the buzzer.
The Rockets switched to a zone defense for the first time with
9:53 left in the fourth quarter after Antoine Walker
on a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 79-66 lead. Boston shot
"That was our last resort because they were scoring to easy in
the man," Mobley said. "They were getting too many
second-chance shots, so coach changed it up, went to a zone and
we became successful with it."
"It definitely slowed us down," Pierce said. "We stood around,
we didn't really get enough movement. We shot the threes, but
the game shouldn't have even gone to overtime. We had the lead
in the fourth quarter and we let it get away. We took the shots
they gave us instead of going for the shots that we wanted."
Houston took the lead for good, 95-93, on a 3-pointer by Mobley
with 1:40 remaining. Rockets rookie Yao Ming
nailed a pair of
free throws and Boston's Tony Battie
made a layup before Francis
sank two from the line with 20 seconds left to give Houston a
99-95 edge. The All-Star point guard capped the scoring with a
breakaway dunk in the final seconds.
Yao, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, attempted only
two shots and finished with nine points.
"They were double- and triple-teaming the big fella and as much
as we wanted to get him the ball, I think he understood because
they had so many hands, arms and legs on him that we didn't want
to force the ball into him," Francis said. "We moved the ball
around and we were real patient tonight with our shot
"They did a tremendous job (on Yao) in front and in back,
switching guys on different plays," Tomjanovich said. "Our guys
were trying (to get him the ball) and it was getting
frustrating to get it in there."
Walker contributed 22 points and 11 rebounds, Pierce scored 22
points and Battie added 20 for Boston, which fell to 77-35
all-time against the Rockets.
"We blew a big lead, opportunity at home to get a big win,"
Walker said. "Up nine, 10, 12 in the fourth quarter with eight
minutes to go. I was very disappointed."
The Celtics fell one-half game behind Philadelphia into fifth
place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"We wanted to come in and protect our home court and stay on top
of the four spot (in the playoff race) and we let it slip
away," Pierce said. "No way, being at home, we should have
given up that type of lead."
Houston limited Boston to just 37 percent from the floor
(34-of-91), including 29 percent from the arc (10-of-35). The
Celtics shot just 6-of-23 in the fourth quarter.
"(They were) not great shots," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said.
"I would like to see a little bit more penetration, instead of
sometimes just passing it on the perimeter. But our team knows
that Yao is waiting for them at the basket.
"(We) didn't get the opportunities we were getting in the first
three quarters. That's life in the NBA."