SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 23 (Ticker) -- Steve Francis
made a ton of
shots to rally the Houston Rockets. But in the final seconds,
he made a decision that may have cost them the game.
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Francis scored 38 points but missed a potential game-winning
35-footer as time expired, sending the Rockets to a 109-108 loss
to the Sacramento Kings.
Francis nearly led his team all the way back from a 14-point
deficit. The Rockets were out of timeouts and trailed by one
point when they fouled Chris Webber
with 5.1 seconds left.
The All-Star forward missed both free throws, and rookie Yao
Ming got the ball into the hands of Francis, who dribbled
quickly into the frontcourt but had a bit more time to get
closer to the basket or perhaps draw a foul.
Instead, the All-Star guard pulled up for a long runner that
bounced off the rim as time expired. The decision dumped the
into a tie with Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff berth
in the Western Conference.
"I'd take the shot in the flow in the game," Francis said.
"It's a normal look that I get. I'd take that shot again. I
thought it was good. I didn't have any doubt. I didn't want to
take any chances of it having go to replay. Nothing went wrong
with it, except that I missed it."
"I hope he doesn't make it because I could (have) iced it," said
Webber, who had made his previous 13 free throws. "That is
exactly what was going through my mind."
Francis' shot may not have been neccessary had his teammates
made their foul shots. Of Houston's nine missed free throws,
five came in the final eight minutes after it had sliced
Sacramento's lead to single digits.
Sacramento took an 86-73 lead into the fourth quarter, but
Houston rallied. Maurice Taylor
's jumper made it 98-94 at the
5:05 mark and, after a pair of misses by Webber, Yao missed a
pair from the line that would have halved the deficit.
had a pair of jumpers and a key steal that rebuilt
Sacramento's lead to 104-98 with 91 seconds left. But Taylor
and Francis each made two foul shots before Francis and Glen
sank 3-pointers to make it a one-point game.
"Sacramento has a very good team, polished in every area,"
Rockets assistant coach Larry Smith said. "They are a veteran
club and they play very well together. They are an outstanding
team. We had our moments tonight. We felt like we could have
done some things against them and we did. They made plays when
they had to and we made big plays also, but unfortunately we ran
out of time."
"We definitely let it get away," Taylor added. "We let one
Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich missed a fourth straight game
after doctors discovered a tumor on the lining of his bladder.
He is expected to miss the rest of the five-game road trip,
which the Rockets have started 1-3 and conclude Monday against
the Los Angeles Clippers.
Playing its third game in four nights, Sacramento posted its
third straight win over teams likely headed to the playoffs.
The Kings played a virtually flawless fourth quarter in
Thursday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers and did the same in
the third quarter of Saturday's win at Portland.
But they were far from perfect Sunday. They shot just 43.5
percent (10-of-23) in the final 12 minutes and allowed the
Rockets to shoot 75 percent (12-of-16).
"Give Houston credit," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said.
"They came at us in the fourth quarter. They're trying to make
the playoffs and they almost pulled it off. I'll take the win."
For most of the game, Francis carried his team. Taylor had 18
points but just three through 36 minutes. Yao collected 11 and
a career-high 19 rebounds, but was scoreless in the final
period. The Rockets had a chance to climb back early in the
second half. But Webber had eight points in the first 4:51 as
the Kings built their lead to 70-56 with 7:09 remaining. They
never let the lead fall below seven points and closed the period
with an 11-6 spurt.
Houston shot just 32 percent (16-of-50) in the first half and
trailed 57-48 at halftime. Francis thought that was where his
team lost the game.
"Even though Sacramento is considered a really good team, I
think we basically gave the game away," he said. "We basically
gave the game away in the first half, missing some free throws
in the first half and big guy couldn't make point blank layups."
Webber finished with 24 points, Bibby added 23 and Stojakovic
had all of his 21 through three period as the Kings (50-21)
became the second team to 50 wins and pulled five games ahead of
idle Portland in the Pacific Division.