CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The Charlotte Bobcats never wavered in
their desire to build their franchise around Emeka Okafor. The
rookie is proving they made the right choice.
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."
The Bobcats dubbed the game "Holiday Hoopla" and gave
away more than $250,000 in gifts to fans, including cash, airline
tickets, a trip to the 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.