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Duncan comes up big, Francis shoots 1-for-12

1/20/2003

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- The Houston Rockets proved they can be
competitive without Steve Francis or Yao Ming on the court. They
still need them come crunch time.

Without their star point guard and 7-foot-6 rookie center on the
floor Monday, the Rockets wiped away a 13-point, fourth-quarter
deficit against San Antonio. For a brief spell, they even held a
lead.

But with the score tied at 82 and 59 seconds remaining, Tim Duncan converted a three-point play to lift the Spurs to an 87-82
victory.

All the while Yao sat on the sideline, while Francis, struggling
through a 1-for-12 shooting performance, stood at the end of the
bench with a towel over his head.

Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich has a history of sticking with
players on a roll.

"I like my man (Francis) in there, but the guys that were in
there brought us back,'' said guard Cuttino Mobley, who scored 15
points.

Would the outcome have been different if Francis and Yao played
down the stretch?

"Woulda, shoulda, coulda -- who knows?'' Mobley said.

Francis, coming off a career-high 44 points in Friday's win over
the Los Angeles Lakers, finished with four points in 31 minutes. He
didn't second-guess Tomjanovich's strategy, at least not openly.

"I don't tell coach when I should go in or come out,'' he said.

Yao played 24 minutes and scored 11 points despite often facing
double-teams by Duncan and David Robinson.

"I was very tired after playing the Lakers, but that's no
excuse. ... I wasn't able to put the ball in the basket,'' Yao
said.

Duncan scored 32 points, seven in the final period. Robinson
added 14 and Tony Parker 11 for San Antonio, which won its fourth
straight.

The Spurs have won 10 straight at home against Houston. The
Rockets' last victory in San Antonio was a 103-94 triumph in April
1997, before Duncan was drafted and while Robinson was on the
injured list.

Duncan said the Spurs thought they had the game in hand before
hurting themselves with turnovers and some bad shots.

"They're a kind of high-octane offense,'' he said. "They can
shoot the ball and they can score.''

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich lauded Parker for his defense against
Francis, who came in tied for sixth in the NBA in scoring at 23.4
points per game.

"He took it as a personal challenge,'' Popovich said.

Terence Morris' backdoor layup gave the Rockets an 80-78 lead
with 4:37 left in the game.

After baskets by Duncan and Parker put the Spurs back up by two,
Moochie Norris made a 16-footer to even it up at 82 with 3:03
remaining.

Neither team scored again until Duncan went over Maurice Taylor
for what turned out to be the last field goal of the game.

Morris scored 15 for the Rockets, while Taylor and James Posey
both had 10.

Duncan scored 13 of the Spurs' 19 first-quarter points, but a
balanced Rockets offense kept them close. A floater in the lane by
Posey and a layup by Kelvin Cato in the final 90 seconds of the
period pulled Houston to 19-16.

After making an 11-foot jumper to open the second, Duncan's
scoring pace slowed while Robinson's picked up and Emanuel Ginobili
came off the bench for the Spurs' only 3-pointer of the half.

Robinson made four of his five shots in the quarter, all but one
of them outside jumpers, scoring nine points to help San Antonio
build a 48-41 lead at the break.

Morris scored eight points in as many minutes off the bench for
Houston in the second, while Mobley scored seven in the period.

Game notes
Kevin Willis played in his 1,304th NBA game, breaking his
tie for seventh on the career list with former Rockets star Elvin
Hayes. ... Mengke Bateer, Yao's former idol and teammate on China's
national team, did not play for the Spurs. ... San Antonio is 18-3
in the new SBC Center. The Spurs have won nine straight at home.
... Mobley, who has made 25 straight free throws, did not go to the
line.