Bruised and exhausted, Yao managed to smile as he talked about his best performance of the season.
Yao scored a season-high 38 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked five shots as the Rockets rallied from 17 points down to win for the seventh time in nine games.
“I know my job,” Yao said. “I know what the team needs me to do. I need to score, rebound, guard people. I know who I am and I know what I need to do.”
Yao topped 30 points for the third straight game and went 10-for-10 from the free throw line. He’s gone over 20 points in nine straight games and reached double digits in rebounds in eight of those games.
“The big fella, he’s really putting us on his back,” said point guard Rafer Alston, who had a season-high 14 assists.
The Rockets may need Yao now more than ever in their desperate push for the playoffs. Fellow All-Star Tracy McGrady left the game early in the third quarter with more back trouble and wasn’t optimistic about returning soon.
McGrady missed Tuesday’s win at Minnesota with a sore back, the 14th game he’s missed due to the injury.
“It’s frustrating,” McGrady said. “I’ve been dealing with it all season. It’s the same old issue.”
A Houston comeback appeared unlikely after McGrady went to the bench. Yao joined him with 2:14 left in the quarter, but the Rockets started their run without their stars.
The Pacers shot 48 percent (30-of-62) through the first three quarters, then missed 21 of 25 shots in the final quarter.
Indiana blew a 12-point lead in a 99-98 loss to Boston on March 3.
“We can’t allow that to happen. This is the second time in a week we’ve done this,” Stojakovic said. “We have to stay together as a team. The game is played 48 minutes, not 34.”
The Rockets hit their first four shots in the fourth quarter and Stromile Swift’s dunk after Bogans’ steal gave Houston a 95-94 lead.
The Rockets led 98-97 and could’ve extended the lead, but coughed up turnovers on three straight possessions. Stojakovic sneaked in for a layup off an inbound play to give Indiana a 99-98 lead with 58 seconds left.
Yao lost the ball, but blocked a shot at the other end to trigger a fast break. Bogans, acquired from Charlotte on Feb. 9, finished it with a layup that put the Rockets up to stay.
“I know my role on this team, play defense, bring energy, take the shots when they’re there,” Bogans said. “Just to help this team win and do everything I can, that’s always going to feel good.”
Coming off a dismal loss to lowly New York, the Pacers were quicker than the Rockets most of the night, shredding Houston’s flat-footed defense with sharp passing and strong drives down the lane.
The Rockets’ first-half frustrations boiled over when Yao apparently got shoved by Scot Pollard, but no foul was called. Stojakovic got fouled at the other end and Yao snapped at referee Tony Brothers to earn his second technical of the season.
Stojakovic sank all three foul shots and Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy chastised Brothers and got a technical of his own. Indiana’s lead swelled to 14 after Stojakovic sank another free throw.
Bogans’ four-point play helped carve the Rockets’ deficit to nine by halftime.
Yao scored Houston’s first 10 points of the second half with effortless hooks and turnaround set shots. McGrady went to the bench less than two minutes into the second half and the Pacers looked poised to pull away.
But suddenly, the shots that fell earlier started clanging off the rim.
“We couldn’t hit shots,” Jackson said. “That’s what it all boiled down to. It was very frustrating, but at the same time, we got the looks.”
The Pacers are the first of nine straight Rockets’ opponents with winning records. … Indiana G Fred Jones sat out with a sprained left thumb. … The Rockets have won four in a row for the third time this season. …Stojakovic went 13-for-13 from the free throw line, a season high for makes.