Yao Ming threw a Coming Out party Sunday night, and we were all invited.
The Rockets center and #1 draft pick this season, who has been barbecued by many members of the media already, played perfectly Sunday as the Rockets held on to beat the Lakers 93-89 in Los Angeles.
The win improves the Rockets record to 5-3 and drops the Shaq-less Lakers to 3-7.
Thanks to Yao Ming, that is. Yao was a perfect 9-9 from the floor, scoring a career-high 20 points in 23 minutes. And these were no garbage time shots or points. He scored 12 in the second quarter, and didn't play again until the start of the fourth. With just under 4 minutes left he hit a huge baseline hook shot and with one minute left he threw down a one-handed monster slam, and picked up the foul, putting Houston up 4.
The big man has become more aggressive with each game, clearly receiving instructions from the Rockets to "throw down slams" when in close rather than the shot banks or layins. He's learning fast. Just a terrific game from him tonight.
"We didn't have anybody to combat his size," said Lakers guard Brian Shaw. "But it's not going to be that way when No. 34 gets back."
Ahh yes, Shaquille O'Neal was out, and of course Yao isn't ready to bust out against the likes of Shaq just yet. But that didn't keep him from roughing up Samaki Walker.
If you did not see this game, not only did you miss Yao's performance but you missed one of the great bitchfests of all time. Kobe Bryant versus any referee that would listen to him. The Golden Child simply did not shut up all night. Not once. Every made shot, every missed shot, every time up the floor... Kobe was whining and yelling at the refs. He actually made Cuttino Mobley look shy, which is no small task.
Kobe finished with 46 points, taking a staggering 37 shots. He missed a simple layin in the final seconds that would have given the Lakers the lead.
Speaking of final second blunders, I still don't know what Steve Francis was thinking when he dribbled out the shot clock for a 24-second violation with 26 seconds left in the game and the Rockets clinging to a 90-89 edge. The Rockets had just come out of a timeout and had 7 seconds left on the shot clock, so to think the Rockets ended up with such a costly mental turnover is alarming.
Still, Francis had numbers, that's for sure. He led the Rockets with 27 points and grabbed 9 boards to go with 6 assists. 11 of his 27 came in the crucial fourth.
Cuttino Mobley had a terrible shooting game (4-13), but came up big in the final minute by picking up a bad Rocket pass, calling a timeout and hitting 3-4 free throws in the final 8 seconds of the game.
Maurice Taylor (12 points, 5-9 shooting) was extremely impressive as well tonight -- can't say enough good things about Mo. He hit huge buckets in the fourth and seems to work very well alongside Yao. In fact, the Rockets trailed by 5 going in to the fourth before Mo Taylor and Yao got the Rockets back in control. Taylor scored two buckets and when Francis found a trailing Yao Ming on the fast break for an amazing layin and mug foul (making the free throw), the Rockets led 70-66.
Mo then hit another mid-range jumper, and when Francis stole the ball and put in a tough layin, the Rockets led 76-68. A short while later, Juaquin Hawkins nailed a foot-on-the-line two with 6:59 left to make it 78-71.
The problem was Kobe Bryant. He kept hitting shot after shot to get the Lakers as close as 2 points. But with 3:49 to go, Yao nailed a baby hook baseline, and the Rockets were back up 85-79.
Kobe nailed a three to get them within one, then after a Rocket miss, Shaw went for a triple but missed. That's when Juaquin Hawkins drove, found Yao Ming underneath who threw down a one-hand monster slam and got fouled with 1:00 to go. After making the freebie, Houston led 90-86.
But Derek Fisher nailed a triple with just over 44 ticks left. The Rockets worked down the clock and a bad pass was saved by Cuttino Mobley. He avoided the jumpball by calling timeout with it on the floor.
But out of the timeout, Steve Francis did the unthinkable.
Almost as if they didn't even discuss in the huddle that there was just 7 seconds left on the shot clock, Francis dribbled out the time - 24 second violation.
Isolation Kobe Bryant.
He broke free, went to the rack all alone and simply blew a gimme floater. Mobley got the board and was fouled with 8.2 ticks left. Clutch free throws and he made both.
Kobe then put up a three, missed, Mobley got the board and was fouled. He missed the first, but the second sealed the deal.