Saturday, January 18, 2003

Yao Ming, do yo thing


Rockets 108, Lakers 104, OT

By Michael A. Lutz
The Associated Press

HOUSTON - Yao Ming made it clear early that he belonged on the same court with Shaquille O'Neal. And the 7-foot-6 Chinese rookie was there at the end to score the biggest basket of the game.

In one of the most hyped matchups of the season, Yao blocked O'Neal's first three shots, altered Kobe Bryant's attempt at the end of regulation and dunked with 10.2 seconds left as Houston beat the Los Angeles Lakers 108-104 in overtime Friday night.

Yao's big start didn't last very long. He faded in the mid-portion of the game but he came back in the closing minutes to help the Rockets pull out the overtime victory. O'Neal outscored his young rival and also gained Yao's respect.

"He's like a truck," Yao said, happy to have his first game against O'Neal over. "I felt like I was under water for a long time and now I could finally breathe."

O'Neal, finished with the better statistical line - 31 points, 13 rebounds and four assists to Yao's 10 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.

"At the beginning, I told myself I'd do my best because he is one of the most important parts of the Lakers," Yao said. "I don't know how to describe it because I've never encountered someone that strong."

The Yao-Shaq battle was almost overshadowed by the exciting game and by Steve Francis, who scored a career-high 44 points and turned a broken play into the biggest play of the game when he passed to Yao for a dunk with 10.2 left in overtime for a 104-100 lead.

"He's a classy guy," O'Neal said of Yao. "I was looking forward to playing him. He's a great player. It's another challenge for me."

Cuttino Mobley added 29 for Houston and for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant shot just 5-for-21 and finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

A sellout crowd of 16,285 delighted at the start when Yao made three of his first four shots, missed his next seven - all of them turnarounds and fadeaways, and made his last one - the dunk that gave Houston a 104-100 lead.

Francis hit one of his six 3-point baskets with 13 seconds left in regulation play for a 92-92 tie.

O'Neal scored the Lakers' first six points of overtime, all of them with impressive power moves against Yao. The final one was a dunk with 1:27 left that cut Houston's lead to 99-98.

O'Neal then committed a flagrant foul against Francis, and coach Phil Jackson got a technical for arguing. The three free throws made it 102-98. Yao was called for a foul trying to block Robert Horry's dunk attempt with 33.6 seconds remaining, and the two free throws made it a two-point game.

For all of his scoring, Francis' pass to Yao was also a big contribution to the victory.

"It was a broken play, like a quarterback scrambling," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Everyone was running at Steve and it was like he was about to be sacked. Then he broke through to Yao. Touchdown."

Yao and O'Neal exchanged handshakes and a brief hug as they walked off the court.

Prior to the opening tip, O'Neal walked up to Yao and said something into his ear, drawing a smile and a nod from Yao. The Rockets usually have Eddie Griffin jump for the opening tip, but this time Francis motioned to Yao that be should do the honors against O'Neal.

Referee Dick Bavetta tossed the ball up, and O'Neal won the tip.

Notes

Francis' previous career high was 41. ... Yao banged his left index finger knuckle midway through the first quarter, but it did not cause him to miss any time. ... Rockets forward Eddie Griffin went down with a mild neck sprain late in the first quarter but returned to the game shortly thereafter. ... Rockets forward Maurice Taylor returned after missing three games with Achilles' tendon soreness.




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Yao Ming, do yo thing
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