Rockets Edge Warriors, Win First Without T-Mac
Houston 91, Golden State 88
HOUSTON, Feb. 24 (Ticker) -- Even without having their big gun to match Jason Richardson, the Houston Rockets found a way to pick up a Tracy McGrady-less win.
Yao Ming scored 22 points and grabbed a season-high 21 rebounds as the Rockets won for the first time in 14 tries without their superstar in the lineup by posting a 91-88 victory over the Golden State Warriors, who wasted Richardson's season-high 39 points.
"When Tracy is out of the game, it's really hard for us to get open shots," Yao said. "He's such a great passer, he can give teammates open shots and everyone knows that. (Without Tracy) that puts more pressure on me and I had to play much harder."
Richardson scored eight points during Golden State's 16-0 run. Houston was unable to score in the final period until David Wesley's jumper with 5:56 to go ended the drought.
"We let them storm right into the fourth quarter," Wesley said. "Our shot selection wasn't very good (during that span)."
The Rockets' ability to weather the storm helped them improve to 9-2 this month after a 5-11 run in January.
"We hit a big-time drought in the fourth quarter," Houston forward Juwan Howard said. "We kept our poise. We got some stops and rebounded the shots. In the past we folded."
Rookie Luther Head's 3-pointer moments later pulled the Rockets into an 82-82 tie and Yao's two free throws with 3:47 left put Houston ahead to stay.
Richardson had a pair of layups around a basket by Howard, who then buried a critical shot from the left baseline for a 90-86 advantage with 38 seconds to go.
"With Tracy out of the game, we all had to step up," Howard said.
Richardson needed just seven seconds to respond with an emphatic dunk, and the Warriors got a chance to tie or take the lead after Wesley missed with eight seconds left.
They elected to go for the win, but Richardson -- who was 7-of-11 from 3-point range but missed his last three from the arc -- was bothered by the 7-6 Yao on a long-range attempt that was off the mark.
"I don't think Yao gets enough credit for the defensive improvement he's made," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "That last play he went up and out and made (Richardson) take a much more difficult shot."
Although Golden State inbounded the ball in the frontcourt with six seconds to go, Richardson hurried his 3-pointer from well behind the arc.
"I didn't know (the time) and it was my job to know it," he said. "I put the shot up too early. I didn't execute the play and didn't know who was on me."
Wesley split a pair of free throws with 0.6 seconds to go, and Mike Dunleavy's full-court heave was not close as the Rockets won their fourth straight home game.
Howard had 22 points and eight boards and Keith Bogans scored 12 of his 13 points in the first half while starting in place of McGrady.
Howard insisted his club did its best to forget about McGrady's absence.
"We didn't even focus on that," Howard said. "Our prayers go out to him and his family. We had to go out with the guys we had in this locker room. We have confidence we can win."
Van Gundy was glad Howard was one of those guys.
"Juwan did not play with much fight (Wednesday)," he said of a 106-102 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in which Howard had eight points on 2-of-11 shooting. "Tonight his fight was off the charts. You need a blue-collar (power forward) around Yao. Yao was a monster on the boards tonight."
Yao's 21 rebounds were one shy of matching a career high.
Richardson was 14-of-26 from the floor and supported by Troy Murphy, who had 15 points and 17 rebounds for Golden State, which was 11-of-22 from the line.
Although he had 14 points in the fourth quarter, Richardson's effort was stymied by a controversial call with 1:38 left. On a drive to the hoop, Richardson and Bogans bumped and went down, causing one official to call a charge and another a block.
Replays showed that Bogans may have been the culprit, but a jump ball was called at mid-court and Yao easily outleaped Richardson to give the Rockets possession.
"It was definitely a block," Richardson said. "The two refs didn't agree on the call and that was the best they could do. How much I scored doesn't matter because we lost the game."
Richardson matched a franchise record for made 3-pointers he already shared with Baron Davis, Clifford Robinson, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin.
Davis missed his fourth straight game with a sprained right ankle, robbing Richardson again of his primary support.
"(Richardson) had a monster game and he needed some help from other people," Golden State coach Mike Montgomery said. "We got the ball in the hands of who we wanted (Richardson for the final shot) and we got the switch we wanted with Yao. If he makes a three we win, but if he goes to the basket we have a layup."