Rockets land with a crash

December 04, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- The Houston Rockets finally ran out of steam last night at the Omni, as their NBA record-tying streak for wins to start a season came crashing to a halt in a 133-111 loss to the red-hot Atlanta Hawks.

The defeat was the first in 16 games this season for the road-weary Rockets, who had matched the record set 45 years ago by the long-forgotten Washington Capitols on Thursday night against the Knicks in New York.

With Hakeem Olajuwon held to 17 points, including three in the second half, the Central Division-leading Hawks (11-4) won their 10th straight and eighth at home without a defeat this season under new coach Lenny Wilkens. Mookie Blaylock led Atlanta with 28 points, and Dominique Wilkins had 27.

"Well, when we bust the bubble, we bust the bubble, don't we?" said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who pulled all but one of his starters, Vernon Maxwell, at the end of the third quarter. "In 16 games, we're going to have a night like this. I'm not making excuses. We played a really good team and they kicked our butts in all phases of the game."

The bubble busted nearly from the start. Behind the hot shooting of Wilkins and Blaylock, the Hawks rode a 66-point first half against the NBA's best defensive team. Atlanta led by 11 after the first quarter, by 20 at halftime and by as many as 34 in the third quarter.

The defeat ended the Cinderella run by the Rockets, who will finish a torturous road trip tomorrow against Cleveland. Houston looked like a team playing its second road game in as many nights, a team that hadn't arrived at its hotel until 4 a.m. yesterday because the bus it was taking to the airport got stuck in a tunnel.

Tomjanovich was almost prophetic before the game, or at least a bit fatalistic, when he talked about his team's recent string that included six of seven away from home. "You have to fight through the problems, the fatigue," he said. "But that's part of the NBA."

And afterward, he said, "We have no excuses because it was a back-to-back situation. We had the same situation to get to this point. They're a very emotional team, a very athletic team and they just ran very well tonight."

Houston's fatigue, and Atlanta's freshness, certainly played heavily into last night's outcome. The Hawks exceeded the season's scoring average of Houston opponents -- 89 a game -- with two minutes left in the third quarter and became the first team to score more than 100 against the Rockets with over 10 minutes left in the game.

"Houston is such a good team that what we wanted to do was come out and jump them right away," said Wilkens, who secured the 880th victory of his 21-year NBA coaching career. "You don't want a team like that to get life because they have a lot of weapons out there."

The Rockets never did. Houston saw an early 10-9 lead become a 22-11 deficit late in the first quarter. It grew to 19 early in the second quarter as Blaylock continued to fire up three-pointers. Blaylock put an exclamation point on Atlanta's highest scoring half this season with a 20-footer at the buzzer.

Things only continued to deteriorate for the Rockets in the second half. Olajuwon didn't score his first basket of the third quarter until 26.6 seconds remained, after the Hawks had seen their 94-60 lead shrink to 96-69 on a three-point play by the 7-foot center. He took a seat on the bench after the quarter ended, and never returned.

"We didn't play our game, and the Hawks were prepared for us," said Olajuwon, who was held to 11 points under his average. "I think Atlanta played a fantastic game. I look at the end of the streak as a new beginning. We know we are going to lose sometime."

Said Maxwell: "The Hawks went out and played a great game tonight. They just out-hustled us and out-played us. During the streak, different guys would pick us up. But tonight, it didn't happen. It is not disappointing to not break the record. We are still 15-1, and it's the best record in the league."

Blaylock said that Wilkens mentioned The Other Streak beforehand, the Hawks' own winning streak. With an uncharacteristically loud crowd of 16,368 in the sold-out Omni, Atlanta played with a fervor that had long been missing before Wilkens' arrival from Cleveland.

"I think the way we're playing is surprising a lot of teams," said Blaylock. "We came out with a lot of fire."

It wasn't surprising to Tomjanovich that his Rockets didn't. After their record-tying victory over the trash-talking Knicks at Madison Square Garden -- a game that seemed as much like a heavyweight fight than anything -- Houston might have punched itself out.

But it was nice while it lasted.

"It's something we'll remember the rest of our lives," Tomjanovich said.

Last night's game notwithstanding.

Houston 27 19 25 40 -- 111

Atlanta 36 30 30 37 -- 133

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