A Houston Rocket center seizes the national spotlight by thoroughly dominating and dismantling the long-time king of the pivot men and his world championship squad, coached by Pat Riley, serving notice to the rest of the league that there is a new force to be reckoned with.
That was 20 years ago when Hakeem Olajuwon stuck it to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers.
On Sunday night, Yao Ming made sure that history repeated itself.
For the first time in probably 8 seasons, you can safely say that Shaquille O'Neal is not the NBA's best center. That title belongs to Yao after he torched Shaq and the Heat for 34 points and 14 boards in a 94-72 nationally-televised Rocket rout in Miami.
We're not talking about most popular center, top All-Star vote-getter or any other artificially-inflated-by-a-billion-Chinese title they can give Yao -- we're talking the league's best center. With Yao's rising play since late last year and Shaq's slow decline due to age, you suspected the torch had passed and Sunday it was all but confirmed. Through 7 games, Yao is now averaging 27.3 points on nearly 60% shooting, 10 boards, 2 blocks and nearly 88% at the charity stripe.
Yao struggled early on against Shaq, but got much more comfortable as the game went on, whether he was spinning and driving on O'Neal or nailing 16-footers in his eye. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter when the Rockets busted the game wide open.
"Tonight, Yao was great," said Riley, the Heat's coach. "There's nothing much to say other than the numbers prove it."
There is plenty of frustrating news for Houston this year -- the mysterious struggles of Tracy McGrady, the absence of Bonzi Wells, the inability of Steve Novak to get off the pine -- but one thing is overwhelmingly positive, and that's Yao's play. He has truly arrived ... and the Rockets are 5-2 as a result.
The bad news was that Chuck Hayes left with a hyperextended left knee early in the second half. It was clear immediately that the knee bent backwards and we're hoping to hear good news on his status.
- The Rockets outscored the Heat 55-30 in the second half, including 34-16 in the final period.
- T-Mac continues to labor out there shooting the ball. He was 6-18 from the field and 0-4 from long range. For the season, McGrady is now at 38.6% from the field and 22.2% from beyond the arc. Major ouch. On the bright side, he did have 8 assists.
- Houston as a team took 23 three-point attempts, making just 7 (30.4%). McGrady, Shane Battier and Kirk Snyder combined to go just 1-13.
- Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy pulled Rafer Alston with 9:26 left in the game in favor of Luther Head, who hit two clutch three-pointers to help turn a 3-point Rocket lead into a Houston laugher.
- With seconds remaining in the first half, Rafer Alston and Gary Payton mixed it up a bit, each drawing a technical. The double technical call was a cop-out by the refs as Payton instigated the issue by pushing Rafer off on defense then tossing the ball at him while Rafer merely stood his ground.