HOUSTON (AP) – Twice this season, the Golden State Warriors got away with double-teaming Yao Ming and daring the other Houston Rockets to beat them.
Not this time.
Yao scored eight of his 36 points in the final 2_ minutes and had 19 rebounds to help the Rockets hold on to beat Golden State 111-107 on Tuesday night.
Yao averaged only 13 points in the first two meetings with the Warriors and the Rockets lost both games by double digits. Houston opened this one with a 23-6 run, hitting nine of its first 16 shots.
Forwards Luis Scola and Shane Battier combined for 11 points during the early burst, forcing Golden State to guard them and leave Yao to push around undersized big men like Andris Biedrins and Al Harrington.
"Our '4' men were very aggressive," Yao said. "They attacked the rim, they got second shots, they knocked down some pull-ups. They (the Warriors) could not just stay out in front of me. They needed to go over there on our 4s."
Rafer Alston had 17 points and a season-high 12 assists as the Rockets overcame the absence of Tracy McGrady to win for the fifth time in six games and snap a four-game losing streak to the Warriors.
Golden State nearly rallied to win after trailing by as many as 21 in the first half. The Warriors took their first lead, at 102-101, on Baron Davis' 3-pointer with 2:11 left in the game.
"We dug too big of a hole and it was just too tough to climb the ladder," said Golden State coach Don Nelson.
Yao overpowered Golden State's undersized frontcourt all night and muscled his way down low on every Rockets' possession down the stretch. He went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and flipped in a hook shot after Davis' basket as Houston pulled away late.
"If we could just get the ball in there to him," Alston said, "we could have any shot we wanted."
Yao is an 85 percent free-throw shooter, but the team is shooting only 73 percent. He joked that Houston coach Rick Adelman should hire him to teach his teammates how to make them.
"I'm available," Yao said with a smile.
Davis sank another 3-pointer with 15.5 seconds left for the final margin. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists.
McGrady sat out with flu-like symptoms, the 15th game he's missed this season. The Rockets improved to 8-7 without him.
Luther Head scored 20 and added six assists for the Rockets.
Stephen Jackson had 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds for Golden State. The Warriors certainly could've used 6-foot-10 Chris Webber down low to help contain Yao. Webber signed with the team on Tuesday, but he's not expected to play for a week.
"Our guys fought hard all game and we couldn't stop Yao," Jackson said. "He's a big boy and he's a handful and we couldn't stop him."
After falling behind early, Golden State quickened the pace, but that strategy backfired. Yao scored twice inside to stretch Houston's lead to 29-9 with three minutes left in the first quarter.
Yao had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first quarter alone and Houston led 33-18.
"The start was the key for us," Alston said. "We were in a rhythm and we were out running."
The Warriors found their touch and mounted an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 10. But with Yao on the bench, the Rockets retook control in the second quarter, answering with a 12-3 burst to extend the lead to 45-26.
Yao returned with 7:07 left in the half, after Carl Landry cut open his bottom lip diving for a loose ball. Golden State trimmed the deficit to 10 again, but Alston sank a 3-pointer to put the Rockets up 60-46 at the break.
The Rockets led 71-57 midway through the third quarter, but Monta Ellis and Matt Barnes sank 3-pointers during a 14-4 Golden State run. After a Houston time out, Yao scored twice inside and Battier hit a 3-pointer, pushing the lead back over 10.
Harrington sank two 3-pointers in three minutes as Golden State mounted one final surge. Seldom-used Steve Novak missed two forced 3-pointers at the Houston end and Harrington pulled the Warriors to 100-99 on a long jumper from just inside the 3-point line.
Golden State went 12-for-29 from 3-point range, sinking eight in the second half to fuel the comeback.
Notes: Yao matched his season highs in points and rebounds. … Golden State finished with 10 turnovers and committed only three in the second half. … Landry, a rookie, took five stitches for his injured lip at halftime.