NBA ROUNDUP

Rockets top Lakers in OT thriller


Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 11:47 p.m.

HOUSTON (AP) - All it took was 3 minutes for Yao Ming to show Shaquille O'Neal that this would be no mismatch.

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Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, right, drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest, left, forward Jermaine O'Neal, center, and guard Ron Mercer, right, during the first quarter in Boston, Friday.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

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 for the biggest basket of the night as the Houston Rockets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 108-104 in overtime Friday night.

The game turned out to be worthy of all the hype it received for being the first meeting ever between the 7-foot-6 rookie center from China and the 7-foot, 360-pound three-time defending champion.

"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."

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.

But it was the Rockets that walked off with a victory-- their season-high fourth in a row-- while ending the Lakers' longest winning streak of the season at five games.

"How should I put it: We beat the Lakers today, but Shaq is still Shaq," Yao said. "He's like a truck."

Steve Francis led the Rockets with a career-high 44 points, and Cuttino Mobley added 29. Kobe Bryant shot just 5-for-21 and finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for Los Angeles.

Yao, 22 and eight years younger than O'Neal, 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. Mobley made four foul shots the rest of the way to help ice the win.

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.

"The unfortunate thing is it had to be decided by them," O'Neal said of the officials. "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."

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.

Francis then made the pass of the night, finding Yao alone to the left of the basket for a dunk.

"Once I went up and saw Robert Horry and Shaq, I knew Yao had to be open," Francis said. "It happened so slow to me, watching the play, and I was so happy to see him dunk the ball."

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

Yao couldn't have asked for a better start, dominating the first three minutes to the delight of a sellout crowd that included former Rockets centers Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone sitting courtside.

O'Neal got the ball on the Lakers' first possession, made a crossover dribble move on the baseline and went up strong. Yao blocked it, and O'Neal wound up laying flat on his back.

"At the beginning of the game I think I was trying too hard. He's 7-5, he's supposed to block shots. Everybody gets their shot blocked," O'Neal said.

The Rockets got the ball to their big guy deep in the low post, and Yao scored on a jump hook just 24 seconds into the game. After Yao missed his second shot, he blocked yet another dunk by O'Neal and then beat him downcourt for a layup.

Yao scored on a turnaround over Shaq with 9:27 left in the first, but his next field goal did not come until 4:22 remained in the fourth quarter as he expended most of his energy defending O'Neal.

"It wore me out," Yao said through his interpreter. "I don't know how to describe it because I've never encountered somebody that strong before."

Bryant made two free throws with 1:03 left before Francis tied it with a driving layup. A jumper by Bryant was followed by a Rockets turnover on a disputed out-of-bounds call, and Bryant made just one of two from the line with 18.8 seconds left to leave the Lakers ahead by three, 92-89.

Francis then took a pass from Yao, dribbled once to his left and hit a straightaway 3-pointer to tie it with 13.4 seconds left.

Bryant drove around Mobley for the final shot of regulation, but James Posey and Yao were there to force Bryant into a bad shot that missed everything, sending the game to overtime.

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. But the next three minutes were all Yao's.

  • CELTICS 98, PACERS 93: Paul Pierce scored 31 points and made two key baskets in the fourth quarter to help the Celtics snap the Pacers' five-game winning streak.

    Boston blew a 14-point lead, then came back to win after stopping Reggie Miller twice in the final 30 seconds. Al Harrington had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Jermaine O'Neal had 22 and nine for the Pacers, who had won nine of their last 11 coming into the game.

    Antoine Walker had 31 points and 10 rebounds, scoring his only basket of the fourth quarter on a put-back of a miss by Pierce to tie it at 91 with 2:16 left. Pierce gave Boston the lead again with a high-arcing jumper and then made a jumper over Harrington to make it 95-91 and force the Pacers to take a timeout with 1:14 left.

    O'Neal scored on a tip-in of Ron Artest's miss to put Indiana within two. But Miller missed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 28 seconds left; J.R. Bremer was fouled after getting the rebound, and he made the second free throw to make it 96-93.

    With 10.9 seconds left, Miller couldn't handle a pass and lost the ball out of bounds. At the other end, Pierce got the inbounds pass from Eric Williams under the basket and looped it over his head for the easy layup to make it 98-93.

  • BUCKS 99, 76ERS 95: In Philadelphia, Ray Allen scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, leading Milwaukee to its fifth straight victory.

    Sam Cassell scored 12 and Tim Thomas and Toni Kukoc each added 11 for the Bucks, who are within one game of .500 at 19-20.

    Philadelphia's Eric Snow had a chance to tie it with three free throws with 2.4 seconds left, but he missed his first attempt.

    Keith Van Horn scored 22 points, Snow had 18 and Allen Iverson and Brian Skinner each added 17 for Philadelphia, which has lost seven of eight and is 5-15 since starting 15-4.

  • NETS 88, RAPTORS 77: In East Rutherford, N.J., Jason Kidd scored 18 points and added five assists as New Jersey beat Toronto.

    Three other players posted double figures for the Nets. Richard Jefferson had 15 points and eight rebounds, Kenyon Martin had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Kerry Kittles had 11 points off the bench.

    It was the Nets' fifth straight victory at home over the Raptors, who dressed the NBA minimum eight players and were without starters Vince Carter (strained knee) and Voshon Lenard (left ankle sprain).

  • PISTONS 99, KNICKS 82: In Auburn Hills, Mich., Cliff Robinson scored 22 points in three quarters as Detroit pulled away from New York.

    The Pistons turned the game into a blowout with a 16-0 run toward the end of the third quarter to take an 84-59 lead. The huge cushion allowed coach Rick Carlisle to rest his starters in the final quarter.

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