HOUSTON, March 16 (Ticker) --
The Houston Rockets gave coach Rudy Tomjanovich something positive to think about.
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scored nine of his 20 points in the final 4½ minutes as the red-hot Houston Rockets held on for their season-high fifth straight victory, an 85-75 triumph over the Phoenix Suns
that had huge playoff implications.
The Rockets open a five-game road trip in Seattle on Tuesday but will make the trip without Tomjanovich, who will remain in
Houston to have tests on a bladder infection.
"It can always have some seriousness when they have to go in and do some tests," he said. "There's a lot of emotions going
through me. Fear is one of them. I just told (the Rockets) after the game. I feel great, considering all the stress."
The illness to their coach is a distraction for the Rockets, who are playing their best basketball of the season as they try to get into the playoffs.
"It's something we didn't expect to hear after the game," Houston forward Maurice Taylor said. "It was a somber mood. He's the type of guy a lot guys look up to outside of basketball. We're definitely going to play for him."
"It was shocking, coming in the locker room after a big win," Rockets forward Glen Rice said. "Our minds shifted to Rudy. We have to make it easier for him. We can't lose these games and have him stressing out."
The Rockets almost made Tomjanovich's night an easy one, but the Suns rallied from a 26-point deficit, pulling within 70-64 on jumper by Penny Hardaway with 4:52 remaining.
The 7-5 Yao responded with a three-point play and drove around a double-team for a dunk with 3:54 remaining.
"Yao made a great spin play," Tomjanovich said. "Yao made big plays. He's a special kid."
After Phoenix's Stephon Marbury drained a three-pointer, Yao assisted on a hook by Taylor 74 seconds later and buried a jumper over 7-2 Jake Tsakilidis for a 79-69 cushion at the 2:32 mark.
Marbury made a floater over Yao and Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire dunked on his fellow rookie with 66 seconds left. Stoudemire brought the Suns within 79-74 on a free throw with 29 seconds left.
Phoenix was forced to foul and Yao, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley each buried a pair of free throws in the final 27
The Rockets moved one game ahead of the Suns for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and won the season
series, giving them the edge if the teams end the season tied in the standings.
Mobley finished with 13 points and Francis added 12 for the Rockets, who completed an unbeaten four-game homestand.
Marbury scored 19 points and Hardaway had 17 for Phoenix, which lost for the fourth time in five games.
"We had a big game and they need to make up their mind whether they're going to play or not," Suns coach Frank Johnson said of his team. "(The Rockets) did everything we knew they wanted to do."
Shawn Marion collected 14 points and 12 rebounds as the Suns shot just 33 percent (26-of-78) from the floor, including 1-of-10 from three-point range.
Yao outplayed Stoudemire, who scored just 12 points 3-of-10 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds.
"I don't think (Stoudemire) played like his normal self. I think he can play better," said Yao, who had eight rebounds and four blocks. "I was thinking this is a game we have to get. We're not in (the playoffs) yet."
Rice scored all 13 of his points in the first half as Houston jumped out to a 55-31 lead. The Rockets shot a blistering 62
percent (23-of-37) in the first half and made 13-of-18 shots in the third quarter.
Phoenix made just 5-of-22 shots in the second quarter and set a season low for points in a half.
"We were playing catch-up the whole game," Marion said. "We were almost there, but when you dig a hole that big it's tough to
dig out of it. We were still in a situation to win the game."
The roles were reversed in the third quarter as the Rockets made just 2-of-15 shots while the Suns came back. Houston had its
largest lead at 61-35 with 9:02 remaining before Phoenix reeled off 13 straight points, highlighted by five points from Marbury.
Hardaway scored seven points in the third quarter as Phoenix
pulled within 64-55 entering the fourth.
"It was probably the biggest victory in the last four games," Tomjanovich said. "Our defense again was fantastic. (The Suns)
know us pretty well. It reminded me of a playoff game when you get in those droughts."