NEW YORK — The only way the Houston Rockets could have treated their hosts more rudely was if they had taken home chunks of the Madison Square Garden hardwood as souvenirs. Or stuffed tissue down all the toilets on the concourse. Or carried off a few kegs of beer.
The New York Knicks did a lot of talking before this game, one of the most eagerly anticipated regular-season games in this town since Michael Jordan last suited up. No records were being broken in our house, they crowed. The Rockets did a lot of talking, too, but Thursday night, they did all the walking, all over the Knicks' heads.
They reduced the proud Knicks to a mere footnote, a trivia question: When the Rockets tied the record for the best start in pro basketball history, whose clocks did they clean? Answer: Knicks, 94-85, and it wasn't that close. The Rockets (15-0) can pass the Red Auerbach-coached 1948-49 Washington Capitols in the record books tonight in Atlanta.
The biggest footprint was left by Hakeem Olajuwon. This might have been the most one-sided NBA matchup of the 15 between him and Patrick Ewing. Olajuwon had a season-high 37 points and added 13 rebounds. Ewing missed 16 of 20 shots (all 12 in the second half) and scored only 12. In the third quarter, Olajuwon outscored Ewing, 16-0. While Olajuwon was hitting fallaways, turnarounds, double-pumps and one-handers, Ewing was hitting backboards and rims.
"Every shot we took was frantic," Knick Coach Pat Riley said. And most of them missed; they shot 38%.
John Starks of the Knicks scored 24 of his 35 points after the game started getting away from them; he missed 12 of his first 14 shots. Charles Smith, Greg Anthony and Hubert Davis shot a combined two for 11. In fact, the bench provided all of 11 points, two fewer than Rocket backup power forward Carl Herrera, who also grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds.
Olajuwon had 17 points at halftime, then started taking Ewing up and down both baselines, making seven of eight from the floor in the third quarter. The Knicks have a philosophical aversion to double-teams and didn't afford Olajuwon the courtesy until it was too late.
Ewing, meanwhile, never shook the Rockets' constant double- and triple-teaming. He just kept firing. "It was frustrating because I was missing shots I normally hit," Ewing said. "Sometimes you have days like that. I was still going, still banging, still shooting it." He laughed. "If I'd kept getting the ball, I might have gone four for 50. I was going to still shoot it."
Clearly, the Rockets didn't back into this streak. Tying it at Madison Square Garden, said Rocket Coach Rudy Tomjanovich, was something they could "tell their grandchildren about." Olajuwon reflected the Rockets' confidence: "Every game the pressure builds up more and more. We've responded well to it so far. . . . It's nice to get wins, not just how many in a row."
15 Up, 15 Down
A look at the Houston Rockets' record-tying winning streak to start the season:
Leading Leading Date Opponent Score Scorer Rebounder Nov. 5 New Jersey 110-88 Olajuwon 24 Olajuwon 19 Nov. 7 at Portland 106-92 Olajuwon 29 Olajuwon 12 Nov. 9 at Golden State 102-93 Olajuwon 32 Thorpe 13 Nov. 11 Minnesota 107-99 Olajuwon 36 Olajuwon 17 Nov. 13 Phoenix 99-95 Olajuwon 24 Olajuwon 16 Nov. 15 at Philadelphia 88-84 Olajuwon 21 Thorpe 19 Nov. 16 at New Jersey 90-84 Olajuwon 20 Olajuwon 19 Nov. 18 at Indiana 99-83 Thorpe 24 Thorpe 11 Nov. 20 Clippers 108-86 Olajuwon 22 Olajuwon 12 Nov. 23 Chicago 100-93 Olajuwon 28 Olajuwon 11 Nov. 24 at Utah 95-93 (OT) Olajuwon 29 Olajuwon 17 Nov. 26 at Sacramento 92-89 Olajuwon 36 Thorpe 14 Nov. 27 at Clippers 82-80 Maxwell 17 Olajuwon 15 Nov. 30 Milwaukee 102-91 Olajuwon 20 Olajuwon 12 Dec. 2 at New York 94-85 Olajuwon 37 Herrera 15