HOUSTON (AP)—Dunks, layups and turnaround jumpers on one end, blocked shots and rebounds at the other.
“Coach (Jeff Van Gundy) has told me there are two things that if you do them well, you play well. One of them is rebound, the other is block shots,” Yao said. “I think he just wants me to have more energy on the defensive side.”
“I’ve got another big guy coming,” Yao said. “I want to be ready for him.”
Yao’s postgame detour didn’t surprise teammate Shane Battier.
“He’s a worker,” Battier said. “He’s the first one at practice every day and he’s one of the last ones to leave. A player does not become dominant like he is becoming by watching highlights on ESPN.”
Yao hit 15 of 21 shots and also had a steal and two assists as the Rockets beat the Knicks for the fourth straight time.
McGrady went 4-for-12 and had eight assists, but the six-time All-Star realizes even he’s in a supporting role when Yao plays like this.
“It’s crazy to me,” McGrady said. “If I go out and have a subpar game and I don’t shoot the ball well or play well and I get 13 points, every team I’ve been on, we’re going to lose that game.
“The role is kind of reversed now. I’m the distributor and I like that role.”
McGrady can’t wait to see how Yao performs on Sunday—and even gave Shaq some bulletin-board material to ponder.
“I don’t care who you try to match up against him, I don’t care who you say is the most dominant,” McGrady said. “No. 11 on my team, hands down, is the best center in the league.”
Eddy Curry, outmuscled by Yao most of the night, went 2-for-11 from the field and scored seven points with five rebounds.
“Oh, man, it was bad out there,” Curry said. “But you’ve got to give credit to Yao. He played me great.”
Yao hit five of his first seven shots, dominating Curry from the start with baseline jumpers and quick drives. He blocked a shot by Curry at the other end, then took a pass from Alston for an easy dunk to give Houston a 12-4 lead.
The Knicks missed 11 of their first 17 shots, enabling the Rockets to keep the lead despite an 0-for-5 start by McGrady. He came into the game averaging 19.6 points, but shooting only 40.5 percent from the field.
Yao cooled off, but remained a force on defense, blocking five shots—four by Curry—in the first half. Yao had 18 points and seven rebounds at the break.
“He’s never been that active,” Curry said. “Man, playoff form, All-Star form, I don’t know. I’ve never seen Yao like that.”
Yao hit a turnaround jumper and a hook shot, then drove past Curry for a layup during a 14-4 Houston run to open the second half. McGrady finished the spurt with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Rockets up 68-50.
The Knicks rallied from 12 down with eight minutes left to beat Denver on Wednesday and trimmed a 19-point Houston lead to 10 early in the fourth quarter Friday.
New York coach Isiah Thomas went to a small lineup and tried 6-foot-8 rookie Renaldo Balkman on Yao. Balkman got a steal from Yao on one possession, but Yao had an easy lay-in on the Rockets’ next trip down the floor to put Houston up 87-75.
“When they keep changing and putting different men on me,” Yao said, “that makes me feel like I’m having success.”
The Knicks twice got within eight, but Luther Head and then Alston sank answering 3-pointers to keep New York at bay.
Nate Robinson, at 5-foot-9, dunked off a missed shot and Marbury buried a 3-pointer to cut Houston’s lead to 99-93 with a 1:15 to go.
Thomas is encouraged by the way his team is finishing games.
“I am really proud of how hard we fight and I told my players that,” he said. “Right now, we don’t need to focus on losses because if we keep playing hard, we are going to get better as the season goes on.”
This time, the Rockets held them off.
McGrady coolly sank two free throws and Yao added two more in the final minute.
New York’s Steve Francis sat out for the second straight game with a sprained left ankle. Francis played for the Rockets from 1999-04. He and Yao embraced at midcourt when the game ended. … McGrady banked in an off-balance 3-pointer off with 1.1 seconds left in the first half to give the Rockets a 54-46 lead. … The Rockets’ four-game win streak over the Knicks is their longest in the 119-game history of the series. … The Rockets have outrebounded their last four opponents by 10 or more.