Yao Leads Rockets Over Wolves
Houston 93, Minnesota 87
MINNEAPOLIS, March 7 (Ticker) -- The Houston Rockets were without one All-Star, so they relied on their other one to pull out a victory.
Yao Ming collected 30 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks as the Rockets won their third straight game with a 93-87 triumph over the slumping Minnesota Timberwolves.
"Without McGrady, we've been pretty poor, so I really feel a lot of pressure," Yao said. "My teammates look to me and my opponents focus on me and double-team a lot. The experience without him is building to today (with the win)."
On Tuesday, Yao stepped up and outplayed Minnesota superstar Kevin Garnett as the fourth-year center made 11-of-24 shots and 8-of-12 free throws. Garnett managed 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
"(Yao) is a big man and he's a handful for us," Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey said. "We tried three people on him and he is just a handful down here wrestling with him. He has really, really had a stretch of games the last couple of weeks where he has played well and been a force."
Minnesota held a 67-61 bulge at the start of the fourth quarter before Houston's Stromile Swift and Yao took over, combining for 10 points in a 15-1 run to open the period.
"Stromile had a great effort and played really well," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Yao bounced back and had a much better second half (tonight)."
Garnett's monstrous dunk closed the gap to six points with just under five minutes remaining. But rookie Luther Head scored on a layup and Yao connected on two free throws as the Rockets rebuilt their lead to 80-70 with 2:15 left.
Minnesota stumbled through the first 10 1/2 minutes, making just 1-of-18 shots.
"Our guys try hard on defense," Van Gundy said. "Any time a team goes 1-for-18 (to start a quarter), they are probably going to hit some of those shots most times. We got back and made things difficult for them."
Head's jumper with 1:52 left gave the Rockets a 11-point edge, and the Timberwolves never challenged thereafter.
Rafer Alston scored 17 points and Swift added 11 and nine rebounds for Houston, which shot 39 percent (29-of-73) from the floor but made 7-of-15 3-pointers.
"It was a great win," said Alston, who added five assists. "One of our best players couldn't go, so a lot of us felt the need to really step up. But we came with a sense of urgency to come here and get a victory and continue our good roll of success."
Marcus Banks scored a career-high 26 points and Mark Blount contributed 18 off the bench for the Timberwolves, who shot 39 percent (34-of-87). Minnesota has dropped six of their last 10 at home.
"Sometimes you're on and sometimes you're off," Banks said. "Unfortunately, we were on early and then struggled later on in the game. We need to finish the game out, and the last two minutes wasn't enough."
Garnett dealt with the loss of close friend and Minnesota Twins great Kirby Puckett, who died Monday due to a stroke. He penned "KP34" on his shoes in Puckett's memory.
"Usually we get a better boost from our bench," Garnett said. "It's been a rough 48 hours, personally. For the most part today, we withstood every blow, and then the fourth quarter came and they were a lot more aggressive."