Monday, December 20, 2004

Bobcats 101, Rockets 100, OT

Jenna Fryer / Associated Press, from Foxsports.com
Okafor had 23 points and 17 rebounds, his 12th consecutive double-double, to lead the expansion Bobcats to their first winning streak with a 101-100 overtime victory against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

Okafor sent the game into overtime with a dunk over Dikembe Mutombo with 3 seconds left in regulation, then helped Charlotte win its second straight game by battling for a loose ball late in the extra period that sent him to the sideline with a bloody nose.

"Emeka Okafor is a definite star in the making in this league," Houston's Tracy McGrady said.

Clinging to a 98-97 lead, Okafor missed twice on a pair of putback attempts that Charlotte was certain he was fouled on. The Bobcats argued as the Rockets pushed the ball up the court, but Okafor stayed with the play.

Jim Jackson missed a 3 for the Rockets, Mutombo got the rebound and missed on a jumper and Okafor scrambled for the ball. He took an elbow to the nose as the ball bounced out of bounds, but teammate Gerald Wallace was fouled by Bob Sura to go to the line.

Wallace made one free throw for a 99-97 lead with 19 seconds to play and Okafor out getting his nose plugged. He returned as McGrady missed for Houston.

Jamal Sampson was fouled and made both free throws to put Charlotte up 101-97 with 3 seconds to play, a large enough margin to make McGrady's 3-pointer at the buzzer meaningless.

Okafor, the NBA Rookie of the Month for November, has scored in double figures in points and rebounds 16 times this season.

But afterward, he was mostly in awe of Houston's Yao Ming, who had 16 points and 19 rebounds against Okafor before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

"He is so tall," Okafor said. "You see him on TV, and you have no idea. Then I got up against him and I was like 'Dang!' I have no idea how to stop him."

But once Yao went out, Okafor only had Mutombo to deal with and did just fine.

He tied it at 92 with a turnaround jumper over Mutombo with 28 seconds left in regulation, and after McGrady hit a 20-foot jumper that put Houston up 94-92 with 7 seconds to play, Okafor didn't back down. Brevin Knight fired the ball inside, and Okafor jammed it in over Mutombo to tie it with 3 seconds left.

"He hustled," Mutombo said of Okafor. "That's been part of his game since college, trying to go after any loose ball. He did a great job ... I give him all the credit for their win."

Keith Bogans finished with 19 points for Charlotte, Wallace had 15, and Sampson had 11 rebounds for the Bobcats, who won their fifth consecutive game at the Charlotte Coliseum.

McGrady scored 29 for the Rockets, who blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. Houston had 23 turnovers - 18 were Charlotte steals - and was outrebounded 53-43.

"We lost the game on turnovers and bad fouls in the fourth quarter," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "I'm very disappointed in the way we played." Bahamas and a Mercedes. ... Wallace took it a step further, giving Christmas gifts to an underprivileged 13-year-old after the game. ... Mutombo had three blocks in the first quarter, including one on Wallace that drew a hearty laugh from fans behind the Charlotte bench. ... Charlotte's Jason Kapono made a halfcourt shot at the end of the first quarter that was waved off. ... It was clear how popular McGrady and Yao are by the 100 or so fans lined up for autographs during warmups.

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