HOUSTON, April 23 (Ticker) -- With their lead evaporating down the stretch, the Houston Rockets turned to their own dynamic duo to get back in their Western Conference first-round series with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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Yao Ming made a tough hook shot and Steve Francis sank a pair of improbable layups in the final two minutes as the Rockets held on for a 102-91 victory over the Lakers in Game 3.

Houston led by as many as 13 points in its first home game of the postseason, but Los Angeles climbed within 90-86 as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant asserted themselves in the fourth quarter.

Instead of falling apart, Yao and Francis helped put away the game. Yao made a lefthanded hook shot with 1:52 left despite being mauled by O'Neal to key a game-ending 12-5 run.

"It wasn't about him getting the shot," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He's worked on trying to develop his left hand. It was a great shot against very good defense. We needed that shot to go in."

Steve Francis' circus shots highlighted the fourth quarter.
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Francis made a reverse layup as he was fouled with 67 seconds to go. He missed the ensuing free throw but sealed the win when he banked in a layup with his back to the basket as he was fouled by O'Neal with 40 seconds remaining.

"Those are definitely two of the toughest shots I've taken in my career," said Francis. "I was able to draw contact."

"That was the game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Francis made the foul shot as the Rockets went 5-of-6 from the line in the final 25 seconds.



Francis barely missed his second straight triple-double with 27 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Yao finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for Houston, which hosts Game 4 on Sunday.

"Steve's been outstanding all three games, except the turnovers in the first game," Van Gundy said.

Houston won its first playoff game since 1999, when it was eliminated by the Lakers, 3-1, in the first round.

O'Neal had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Bryant scored 21 points but made just 7-of-20 shots from the floor. The Lakers shot 43 percent (36-of-83) and were only 14-of-24 from the line.

Los Angeles went to O'Neal early and often in the first quarter, building a 17-12 advantage, its largest of the game.

O'Neal scored 11 of LA's first 13 points but did not score again before halftime, sitting out the final 2:10 with three fouls.

"He probably got tired from scoring," Van Gundy joked.

"I tried to stay out of foul trouble, but I still got a couple of silly fouls," O'Neal said.

Houston's big three of Francis, Yao and Cuttino Mobley, who had 21 points and five assists, outscored and outplayed Los Angeles' trio of O'Neal, Bryant and Karl Malone.

The victory proved an emotional lift for the Rockets, who were in danger of being swept.

"All we did with this win is get back in the series," Van Gundy said. "It's not about pounding our chests."