HOUSTON (AP)—Yao Ming has taken only 13 shots in the last two games of Houston’s first-round series against Portland. That’s OK with him.
The Trail Blazers have shut down the Rockets’ 7-foot-6 center with aggressive double-teams and physical play, but they still trail the series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Sunday in Houston.
Yao was limited to seven points on 2-for-7 shooting in Game 3, but Luis Scola scored 19, Shane Battier added 16 and Houston won 86-83. Yao scored only 11 in Game 2 and the Rockets still nearly rallied before losing 107-103.
Yao will gladly continue to take on multiple defenders and leave the scoring to teammates as long as the Rockets keep winning.
“We have a lot of weapons,” said Yao, who averaged 19.7 points during the regular season. “Actually, I’m not very frustrated. I have not caused the damage I did in the first game, but I think I have still helped the team win. That’s the only thing I care about.”
“Yao and Ron don’t even score in double figures and they win the game,” said Portland’s Brandon Roy. “They made some good adjustments, some guys came off the bench and played well. We felt like we did a good job of taking away the two guys, and their other guys got it going.”
Yao is still the Rockets’ most reliable scoring option, and they’ll try to force the ball to him again in Game 4. Yao became the focal point of the offense when Tracy McGrady went out with season-ending knee surgery in February, and scored 24 points on 9-of-9 shooting in the Rockets’ victory at Portland in the series opener.
“That’s going to be the challenge from here on in,” Battier said. “They’re going to take him away. We have to do a better job of getting him the ball and still exploiting the holes they give us.”
On Saturday, Portland coach Nate McMillan seemed more concerned with the Blazers’ offense, especially early in Game 3.
Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who together scored 69 points in Game 2, shot a combined 4-for-15 from the field in the first half on Friday. The Blazers shot 38 percent overall in the half and trailed 48-37 at the break.
“We just didn’t do a lot of things we did in Game 2 to win,” McMillan said. “We didn’t have the ball movement, we didn’t have the sharpness, the execution, as far as going hard on every possession, being connected. We went back to just reacting, as opposed to being the aggressors.”
Roy said the Blazers never seem to start well against the Rockets at the Toyota Center, where they’ve lost 11 of their last 12 games. The Rockets also jumped on Portland early in Game 1 last Saturday, leading 34-23 after one quarter and cruising to a 108-81 victory.
“We’re just coming out and the other team is playing a little bit harder than we are, with a little bit more focus,” Roy said. “We’ve got to do a better job of executing our offense and putting more pressure on them defensively. Right now, it’s easy for them to guard us, because we’re not getting very much movement.”
The offense flowed better in the second half on Friday, and the Blazers cut a 17-point deficit to 81-80 in the final minute. The Rockets went 5-for-6 from the free throw line from there to seal it, but the Blazers walked away with confidence for the next game.
“We did a good job in the second half,” Roy said. “We battled back, we got stops late and we were able to get some baskets. But we were trying to come back from a 10-point deficit in the playoffs, and that’s tough. The regular season, maybe. But we can’t get down in the playoffs, especially in their building.
“There are definitely some positives,” he said. “We played pretty well and we’ve just got to try to build on it.”
One of the teams will buck its playoff history with a victory on Sunday.
The Rockets have won their last seven home games, but lost six straight Game 4s, mirroring their 0-6 record in first-round series since 1998. The Blazers, back in the postseason for the first time since 2003, have lost nine of their last 10 road playoff games.