All the questions about Yao Ming not being back to his regular self were officially put to rest Sunday night against Orlando in a 103-92 victory. Yao had his best game since coming back from his injury 4 games ago starting March 15th.
This time Yao scored 37 points on an efficient 14-of-22 shooting. Although several of those shots came from T-Mac finding Yao on passes for easy dunk shots, several of those buckets were made on tough hook shots, including some on the baseline using his left hand. His exceptional performance also came against a tough match-up against Eastern Conference All-Star Dwight Howard.
Yao made all four of his shots in the first quarter, but picked up his second foul with 5:26 remaining in the first quarter with the Rockets leading 16-7.
That’s when Dwight Howard went to work, getting 3 dunks on 3 shot attempts over the next 7 ½ minutes. When Yao checked back into the game with 9:48 remaining in the second quarter, the Rockets 9-point lead had been cut to four: 33-29.
But the Rockets opened up a 16-point lead in the second thanks to better defense, including one play with a little over a minute remaining when Howard went to the rack and Yao took it out of his hands while he was in mid-air!
From that point until halftime, Yao duplicated his first quarter performance, scoring 8 points, including a couple of easy layups coming off T-Mac dishes. Yao himself had 3 assists in the second quarter.
By halftime, the Rockets were comfortably ahead 58-45 and had shot 69% in the first half.
T-Mac had 12 points and 3-of-3 shooting from Shane Battier (all three-pointers) and 4-of-4 makes from Juwan Howard.
Yao piled on 10 more points in the third quarter, which included making 4-of-4 free throws. T-Mac made only 1-of-6 shots in the third, but still the Rockets padded their lead by 5 points (83-66) heading into the fourth.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Rockets opened up their biggest lead — 21 points — and by that time, he had scored 30 points in 30 minutes. Not bad efficiency, huh?
But like in any NBA game, a team will make a run, and the Magic were no exception. With 5:41 remaining, the Magic had cut the deficit to 12 points with the Rockets struggling to make their shot. I just had to think, “Would there be another Boston game-like collapse?”
That question was answered about a minute later when Yao’s shot was blocked down low by Darko Milicic, but Shane Battier tapped the loose ball to T-Mac behind the three-point line, who proceeded to swish a trey to make it 94-79, and that was the ballgame.
Convincing as the win was, it’s surprising that Luther Head didn’t score (0-for-4 shooting), Rafer Alston scored only 5, and T-Mac only scored 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting. But he did have 10 assists to make up for it.
Now the Rockets head to Phoenix for a back-to-back against the scary Suns. We all know how that game is going to turn out, but at least Yao will create some fits now that it seems he’s back to his pre-injury self.