Houston 108, L.A. Lakers 104 (OT)
HOUSTON, Jan. 17 (Ticker) --
The Shaq-Yao showdown was stolen by Steve
Francis scored a career-high 44 points, stealing the spotlight
away from Shaquille O'Neal
and Yao Ming
and lifting the Houston
Rockets to a 108-104 overtime victory over the Los Angeles
The first meeting between O'Neal, the 7-2, 350-pound superstar
center of the Lakers, and Yao, the 7-5, 300-pound rookie center
of the Rockets, began with a bang and had its moments.
But the game's biggest star was Francis, who made 12-of-21
shots, 6-of-8 3-pointers, 14-of-17 free throws and handed out 11
assists. He made a 3-pointer to force overtime, then made six
foul shots in the extra session before finding Yao for a crucial
dunk with 10.2 seconds remaining.
"It's certainly one of my top performances," Francis said.
"With Yao and Shaquille, I didn't want to overshadow that. My
points came within the flow of the game. I got into a groove
and hit a shot."
Playing in front of his stepfather Philip Harrison, O'Neal
collected 31 points and 13 rebounds. After a slow start, he was
simply overpowering at times and showed Yao that he still has a
long way to go.
"He's like a truck," Yao said through an interpreter. "I've
never encountered someone that strong before. He's not crafty,
it's just strength. It wore me out playing him."
"Shaq was up for the game," teammate Kobe Bryant
said. "It took
him some time to adjust to his size but once he did, it was
back to the boom."
Playing in front of his parents, Yao was no slouch, collecting
10 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Until his late dunk, he
did most of his damage in the first five minutes, catching
O'Neal a bit off guard.
"He's a classy guy," O'Neal said. "I was looking forward to
playing him. He's a great player. It's another challenge for
"He did a great job," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "No
one can stop Shaq, but I thought he (Yao) played wery well on
him. He had a very good beginning and then he got tentative.
It was a great learning experience."
The matchup was a spirited one and featured none of the ill will
that may have existed between the big men beforehand. Prior to
the game, the Organization of Chinese Americans held a news
conference outside the Compaq Center and derided O'Neal for
racially insensitive comments he made about Yao last June.
"I already apologized," O'Neal said. "Yao Ming is my brother.
Asian people are my brothers. I grew up in the army with people
of all colors. I was just joking. I made a bad joke and it's
unfortunate one idiot writer tried to start a racial war on
that. Don't make a racial war out of this."
"I know the Asian community has supported me. I'd like to thank
them," Yao said.
scored 29 points for the Rockets, who have won
four straight games.
Bryant had 22 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for the
Lakers, who had a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to
5-15 on the road.
With the Rockets clinging to a 102-100 lead, Francis dribbled
down the shot clock and used a high pick from Yao, who rolled to
the basket, took a bullet pass and dunked. Mobley made four
free throws to seal the win.
"I knew this was a basket that could decide the game," Yao said.
"We had very good timing on that play. Steve was very hot
tonight and we knew if he got double-teamed, he would get the
ball to someone else."
"I knew they would try to jump out at me and when that happened,
I knew Yao had to be open," Francis said. "It happened so slow
watching him dunk the ball. I was so excited for Yao when he
Bryant made only 5-of-21 shots but took over late in the fourth
quarter. He made a jumper and two free throws to give the
Lakers an 89-87 lead with 1:03 remaining. After Francis tied it
with a layup, Bryant sank a difficult fadeaway jumper to make
it 91-89 with 36 seconds to go.
Houston lost possession on a ball that appeared to go out of
bounds off Los Angeles and Bryant was fouled. But he split the
free throws, leaving the door open for Francis, who drilled the
tying shot from the top of the arc with 13 seconds left.
"We've made three of those off that play this year," Tomjanovich
said. "When people know you have to make a 3-pointer, it's
hard to get one off."
"I was running up and I heard the coaches yelling, 'Here it
comes,'" Francis said. "I thought Robert Horry
would come out
on me, but he didn't. That's our secret weapon, but it's not a
secret anymore. I was fortunate to hit that shot."
Francis opened overtime with two foul shots, but O'Neal dunked
over Yao and backed him in for a spin move and a 96-94 lead with
3:17 to go. Francis made a pair of free throws around a
3-pointer by Mobley, but O'Neal again backed down Yao and dunked
to keep it a one-point game with 1:27 to play.
O'Neal smothered a driving Francis but was whistled for a
flagrant foul with 1:11 left. Coach Phil Jackson argued the
call and was hit with a technical foul. Mobley made the
technical foul shot and Francis sank both free throws for a
"We made some critical mistakes in regulation but what really
bothered me was the flagrant foul call against Shaq," Jackson
said. "That was just a ridiculous call. It's unfortunate the
ref took the game away from us with that call."
"The unfortunate thing was it was decided by (the refs)," O'Neal
said. "A whole bunch of people who paid a lot of money had to
see a game that was decided by someone who doesn't make a lot
(of money). That's unfortunate."
The teams traded empty possessions before Horry halved the
deficit with two from the line with 33 seconds remaining.
The Rockets shot 44 percent (35-of-79), including 10-of-15 from
the arc, and held a 50-43 rebounding edge. The Lakers shot 43
percent (40-of-94) and committed just eight turnovers while
Also among the sellout crowd of 16,285 were former Rockets
greats Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone. In the opening
minutes, they watched in amazement as Yao had a hook, layup and
15-footer over O'Neal at one end and blocked two of his shots at
the other. "I wanted to be more aggressive. It gave me great
encouragement," Yao said. "At the beginning of the game, I
wanted to do my best to defend Shaq because he is one of the
most important parts to that team."
"At the beginning of the game, I think I was trying too hard,"
O'Neal said. "He is 7-5, so he is supposed to block shots.
Everybody gets their shot blocked. This is not the first time I
had my shot blocked."
O'Neal's first basket was a dunk and did not come until the 5:51
mark. It started a 17-0 run that he capped with another dunk
for a 28-17 lead with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
Things between the big men calmed down for a while. The Rockets
closed to 28-22 after one period and 47-46 at halftime.