Rockets tip Knicks, 86-84


HOUSTON -- They were happy to be home, after losing two straight games to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. And the Houston Rockets fed off the energy of the home crowd to get to a Game 7.

Not without giving the Knicks a shot at the NBA championship, however. But Hakeem Olajuwon, the league's Defensive Player of the Year, got a finger on John Starks' last-second three-pointer, preserving an 86-84 Houston win.

So the Rockets tied the series at 3, setting the stage for Wednesday's Game 7. And that's a good omen for the Rockets, as the home team has won the last 19 Game 7's.

The game marked just the second time that the Rockets had trailed a series in the playoffs. Houston over came an 0-2 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns to win in seven games. The Rockets are attempting to become just the sixth team to win the Finals after trailing 3-2.

Houston got a game-high 30 points from Olajuwon, who also had 10 rebounds and six assists. But the key was Houston's bench.

"The bench came up big," said the Rockets' Carl Herrera, whose 12 points led all bench scorers. "We were more concentrated on what we had to do."

Starks led the Knicks with 27 points, 16 of those coming in the fourth quarter when he single-handedly brought New York back. He hit three three-pointers in the final quarter. But not the one that counted most.

"The plan was for me to jump out on the pick and roll," Olajuwon said of Starks' final shot. "I was just lucky to get my hand on the ball."

"That's why they call it the home-court advantage," Olajuwon said. "We cannot be in a better position than playing Game 7 at The Summit."

It appeared the Rockets were on the verge of putting the Knicks away easily, increasing a 65-62 lead at the start of the fourth quarter to 72-63 after a layup by Mario Elie with 9:17 left.

But Starks would carry the Knicks back. He got things started with a three-pointer from the top of the circle, the first of seven straight for New York's shooting guard. The last two, on a short jump shot, had the Knicks within 72-70 with 7:48 left.

Later Starks would hit a three-pointer with 5:17 left that had the Knicks within 78-77. And it appeared the Rockets would fall victim to another fourth-quarter fold.

But Vernon Maxwell did a good job containing Starks from there. And the Rockets scored the next six, including a big three-pointer from the struggling Kenny Smith with 3:19 left, taking an 84-77 lead.

Starks ended a scoreless stretch of nearly four minutes, getting free on a layup with 1:37 that had New York as close as 84-79.

Starks would follow that with a three-pointer with 1:17 left that had New York within 84-82.

The Knicks had a chance to tie after Olajuwon missed a jumper. But Starks turned the ball over as he attempted to pass off to Patrick Ewing.

Two free throws by Olajuwon with 38.3 seconds left had Houston ahead, 86-82. But again New York would get to within two, 86-84, after Anthony Mason took a pass from a driving Derek Harper and hit a short jumper. Smith's off-balance jumper in the lane rimmed out on Houston's next possession, setting up New York's final attempt by Starks.

Poor starts had hurt the Rockets in their three losses, but Houston shot 50 percent in the first half -- at one point hitting 14 of 17 shots -- to take a 46-36 halftime lead.

The Rockets didn't start that way in the first quarter, hitting just four of their first 13 shots. They even heard some boos from the home fans for the first time this series after a bad pass from Robert Horry led to an easy layup by Charles Oakley, giving New York a 15-8 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter.

But Horry, who said before the game that he was still sore from his Game 4 spill, came on strong for the Rockets. He scored all eight of his first-quarter points over the last 4:26, including two three-pointers. When he hit a three-pointer from the top of the three-point arc with 6.8 seconds left the Rockets tied the game at 21.

The Rockets took the lead at the start of the second quarter after a three-pointer by Sam Cassell and a layup by Herrera put Houston up, 26-21. However the Knicks scored the next six points, five by Charles Smith, for a 27-26 lead.

Despite losing the lead Houston, which ended the first quarter hitting four of their last five shots, remained on a tear. Herrera's dunk got the Rockets off on a 9-0 run that, ending with a dunk by Olajuwon, had Houston ahead 35-27.

The Knicks would go just over four minutes without scoring when Ewing ended the drought, hitting a 15-foot jumper with 4:58 left. But that did little to jump-start the New York offense, which hit just four field goals in the quarter.

Houston would lead by as many as 11, that coming with 2:49 left when two free throws by Olajuwon gave the Rockets a 43-32 lead. Two free throws by Harper and a layup by Starks had the Knicks within 43-36, but Vernon Maxwell's three-pointer with 1:26 left ended the scoring for the half, giving Houston a 46-36 halftime lead.

No New York player scored in double figures, with Oakley and Ewing scoring six each. Ewing had four blocks in the half (all in the first quarter) but hit just two of seven from the field.

Ewing was able to provide a little offense at the start of the third quarter, scoring five points to pull New York to within 48-44.

Olajuwon would spark the Rockets during a 10-2 run, scoring six that increased Houston's lead to 58-46 after banking in a baseline jumper with 5:18 left.

Then Harper, a key performer in the series who had just one field goal in 20 first-half minutes, hit a three-pointer that started New York on a 14-5 run. And as poorly the Knicks were playing offensively, they were within 63-60 after Oakley hit two free throws with 42 seconds left.

At the end of the third quarter Mason grabbed his own miss and hit a short jumper at the buzzer, pulling New York to within 65-62 going into the final quarter.

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