NEW YORK, Feb. 25 (Ticker) --
In his first visit to Madison Square Garden, Yao Ming
put on quite a show. Then the New York Knicks stole it -- literally.
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Yao scored 24 points but had the ball stolen from him twice down the stretch as the Knicks rallied for a 102-95 victory over the Houston Rockets that snapped a season-high four-game losing streak.
Clarence Weatherspoon scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter for the Knicks, who had trouble stopping the Chinese rookie sensation until the final three minutes.
"I had a chance to win the game, but I didn't come through," Yao said through an interpreter.
"Yao is tough. He is so big and skilled," Knicks guard Allan Houston said. "When we needed stops, fortunately we were able to get them."
The 7-5 Yao made 9-of-15 shots and 6-of-6 free throws, thrilling the sellout crowd of 19,763, which featured a large Asian contingent. His baseline dunk and ensuing free throw gave the Rockets a 92-91 lead with 2:27 to play.
On the next possession, Yao had a chance to extend the lead but was stripped by Latrell Sprewell, whose three-pointer at the other end gave the Knicks a 94-92 edge with 1:50 left.
Yao spun into the lane for a jumper, but Weatherspoon answered with a jumper that gave New York the lead for good with 1:21
"I was just being a veteran player," said Weatherspoon, who made 4-of-5 shots. "I was just going out there and trying to do the things that I always do -- play hard and rebound."
"He hit open shots, and we struggled all night to hit shots," Knicks coach Don Chaney said. "Clarence is one of those guys
who goes unnoticed all the time. He blocks out, he comes up with a big steal every once a while and he rebounds."
The Rockets again went to Yao, who faced single coverage for most of the game. Playing with five fouls, Kurt Thomas reached in and poked away the ball. That set up Sprewell's foul-line jumper to make it 98-94 with 49 seconds left. It was at least a two-possession game thereafter.
"They pretty much let me play the whole game," Thomas said. "I picked up a couple of ticky-tack fouls that I shouldn't have.
As far as me playing against Yao, they really let me be physical with him."
"I think at the end of the game, if it wasn't for my turnovers, the result would have been different," Yao said.
In all, Yao had five turnovers. But Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich felt his whole team had to do a better job of taking
care of the ball.
"It was all of our guys, not just him," Tomjanovich said. "He didn't make 17 turnovers."
For Yao, the game was a stark contrast to Monday's win in Boston, where the Celtics double-teamed him the entire game and
limited him to two shots.
"It's like the difference beween driving a truck one day and then driving a compact car," Yao said.
"He's a rookie," Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley said. "He's 22 years old. The better he gets, the better we'll be."
Houston scored 28 points to lead five Knicks in double figures. Shandon Anderson added 14 points, Sprewell and Thomas had 13 apiece and Howard Eisley contributed 12.
Mobley scored 25 points and Steve Francis added 19 and 12 rebounds for the Rockets, who had a two-game winning streak stopped. They dropped to 10-5 in the finale of back-to-back games.
"That's the sixth in eight nights and three back-to-backs in a row," Tomjanovich said. "I thought our intensity level was
good. I thought it was just decisions."
Francis, who was held to one basket through the first three quarters, scored six straight points to give Houston a 79-74
lead with 8 minutes left. Weatherspoon had a pair of hoops to help cut the deficit to 81-80 with 5:47 to go.
Yao followed in a miss by Mobley, then found Mobley with a beautiful bounce pass for a layup and an 89-85 lead with 3:27
"He had a great game," Thomas said. "He shot the ball well and rebounded the ball. He did everything out there that Houston
could have asked of him."
The 6-7 Weatherspoon, who had a monstrous dunk over Yao in New York's win at Houston on Dec. 27, struck again. He came
down the right baseline and jammed it in, drawing a foul and sinking the free throw to make it a one-point game.
"I just tried to get to his body before he got to mine," Weatherspoon said. "For me, being a lot smaller, a lot of guys
get me (with a foul) on the release because they don't have the same reaction time."
Eisley stripped Francis and drilled a three-pointer to give the Knicks a 91-89 lead with 2:47 left.
Mobley scored 22 points in the first 16 minutes. He had 12 points in the opening quarter and Houston's first 10 of the
second period, helping build a 42-30 lead.
Midway through the period, Yao worked over Michael Doleac, scoring nine straight points for the Rockets to push the advantage to 54-40.
"We tried to keep him off the lane as much as we could," Chaney said. "He is so big and strong that it is hard to do that."
But the Knicks closed to 56-50 at halftime and scored the first five points of the third quarter, making it a one-point game.