Atkins, Grizzlies spoil Yao’s Return to Rockets
Memphis 86, Houston 77
MEMPHIS, Tennessee, Jan. 30 (Ticker) -- The return of Yao Ming wasn't enough for the Houston Rockets to stop their slide.
Chucky Atkins scored 19 points and Pau Gasol contributed 16 and 11 rebounds as the Memphis Grizzlies posted an 86-77 triumph over Yao and the Rockets, who dropped their third consecutive game.
On Monday, the former top overall pick scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds. Playing with a special sneaker to give him extra padding on his toe, Yao looked comfortable throughout, playing 32 minutes.
"That's our go-to guy, because we play inside-out," said Rockets forward Tracy McGrady, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds. "Having him back is good for our team and it's good for me as well because he opens up so much.
"We were trying to get him in a good groove and a good rhythm to try and establish something in the low post and open up our perimeter game. But guys like Rafer Alston, David Wesley and I have to do our part and knock down the shots when Yao's getting double-teamed."
Yao's layup with six minutes remaining in the third period brought the Rockets within one possession 54-52 before the Grizzlies closed the quarter with a commanding 14-3 spurt to take a 68-55 advantage into the final 12 minutes.
"That was big," said Grizzlies reserve Mike Miller, who scored 17 points. "Anytime you can make a run, especially at home, the crowd gets into it and you make shots. That's key. You've got to try and stretch things out at home and let the crowd get into it."
A jumper by Yao and 3-pointer by McGrady pulled Houston within 82-77 with 25 seconds remaining. But Eddie Jones and Atkins ended any hopes of a comeback, nailing four free throws in the waning moments to seal the victory.
"(Yao) did all right, but it's not about individual performance in this league," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "It's team play and playing collectively. He's still trying to get back in game mode, and we know it will take a while before he's back at full strength. I thought overall, though, he did some good things, but he's still not at 100 percent."
Making his first start in his fifth game with Memphis, Atkins made 6-of-11 shots, including 3-of-7 3-pointers. He was signed after negotiating a buyout of his contract with Washington.
"I just liked that we played team ball," said Atkins, who scored 13 points in the first half. "Obviously I made shots tonight. Being in a situation where I hadn't played a game before the Miami game since January 8, I thought it was going to take a little longer to get my basketball legs back. I got a little tired in the second half but I was able to suck it up and get through it. It's only going to benefit me down the line."
Atkins said Memphis coach Mike Fratello approached him Monday morning about the possibility of starting.
"They asked me this morning how I felt about starting," Atkins added. "I told them at some point that's what they wanted me to do when I got here, so I may as well start tonight."
"Chucky did a good job tonight because he had no turnovers in the 37 minutes he played," Fratello said. "That is a great job for the amount of times he put the ball on the floor. As he continues to get more comfortable in our offense, we'll work more on his defense."
Shane Battier scored 12 points and Lorenzen Wright added six and eight rebounds for the Grizzlies, who shot 45 percent (32-of-71) from the field.
Juwan Howard scored 18 points and Alston contributed seven and seven assists for Houston, which shot 44 percent (33-of-75) but made just 3-of-17 from the arc.