Yao Carries Rockets After T-Mac Goes Down
Houston 103, Indiana 99
HOUSTON, March 8 (Ticker) -- Unlike his All-Star teammate, Yao Ming's back appears healthy enough to carry the Houston Rockets.
Yao had a dominant effort with a season-high 38 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as the Rockets posted their fourth straight victory, a 103-99 triumph over the Indiana Pacers.
The 26-year-old superstar decided to give it a go Wednesday and scored 15 points in 21 minutes before aggravating the injury early in the third quarter.
"It's frustrating," said McGrady, who is shooting a career-low 40 percent from the field. "I've been dealing with it all season. It's the same old issue I've been dealing with. I couldn't tell you (when I'll play again), but as of right now, I won't be playing."
Fortunately for the Rockets, Yao has elevated his play of late. The 7-5 giant took advantage of the Pacers' undersized front line, making 14-of-21 shots and all 10 of his free throws.
"I would say that the team is more willing to ride Yao, and Yao is more willing to be ridden," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He knows it's OK to continue to be a hungry scorer. That's good."
Yao, who missed 21 games following toe surgery earlier in the season, believes the Rockets' injuries ultimately have made them a stronger unit.
"We're mentally tough," said Yao, who has recorded three of his five 30-point efforts in the last four days. "We believe someone's going to step up every night."
Yao's hook shot with 8:33 remaining sliced Houston's deficit to 91-89 and capped a pivotal 17-3 run for the Rockets.
After the teams jockeyed back and forth for several minutes, Yao and Peja Stojakovic engaged in a mini-competition of their own. Stojakovic made a layup to give Indiana a 95-94 lead with 3:35 left, but Yao answered with a layup. Stojakovic made two free throws 16 seconds later before Yao sank a pair from the line.
"Since (Yao) has come back, he's been an unbelievable player," Stojakovic said. "He's so much better this year. He's unstoppable right now. He reminds me of when Shaquille (O'Neal) was winning championships in Los Angeles."
The Rockets took the lead for good at 100-99 on a transition layup with 25 seconds left by Keith Bogans, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
"I know my role," said Bogans, who was a key part of a smaller lineup utilized by Van Gundy in the fourth quarter. "Play defense and bring energy. Take the shot when it's there. Coach told me my role my first day here, but it's taken a while to learn the system."
Indiana's Stephen Jackson misfired on a 3-pointer and, after Houston rookie Luther Head split a pair of free throws, Anthony Johnson missed badly on a turnaround jumper.
"The last possession, I took it upon myself to take the shot, and I just overshot it," Johnson said. "We've got to find a way to make shots in the clutch."
Bogans made two free throws to seal the victory, Houston's 14th in 18 games.
"Guys like Bogans add a lot of mental strength and physical toughness," Van Gundy said. "I don't think there's any question we've at times been not as mentally strong or physically strong as we want to be."
Juwan Howard scored 16 points and Rafer Alston handed out a season-high 14 assists for Houston, which shot nearly 53 percent (38-of-72) and made 25-of-31 free throws.
Stojakovic scored 29 points and Jackson added 23 to pace Indiana, which connected on only 4-of-24 shots in the fourth quarter and lost for the third time in four games.
"Their guys off the bench did a good job," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "We missed a lot of looks. It is disappointing to work that hard to get the lead and then lose it. It's a tough deal."
Johnson answered Houston's 17-3 run with a driving layup to restore a 93-89 lead for the Pacers. Bogans made three free throws and Stromile Swift added a thunderous dunk on a feed from Head for a 94-93 advantage -- the Rockets' first lead since 23-21.
"That was a fantastic game the last quarter and a half," Houston guard David Wesley said. "That was a gut check, some mixed emotions -- up, down, and to come out with that win is good stuff."