Luis Scola had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Rafer Alston added 17 points and six assists and the undermanned Rockets didn’t miss their two stars at all, taking advantage of New York’s poor shooting to beat the Knicks 96-76 on Saturday night.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is implementing the same up-tempo system he ran successfully in Phoenix, and Alston said that style helped the Rockets overcome the absence of McGrady and Artest, two of Houston’s top three scorers.
“You put Von out there, Aaron and myself, we’re better suited to get up and down,” Alston said. “If they were to slow it down, they had some mismatches out there. If they went to that, that probably would’ve suited them. But for us to go up and down like that, we had really had opportunities to match them speed for speed.”
McGrady was inactive because of a sore left knee, and Artest sat out for the fourth time in five games with a sprained right ankle, but the Knicks scored only 31 points in the second half and shot 35 percent overall.
“We did not get great shots,” D’Antoni said. “Our ball movement wasn’t good at all. It sapped our fire and then they got energy.”
Houston has managed to win 24 of its first 39 games because players such as Wafer have produced when others have sat out with injuries. Wafer started for McGrady and did a reasonable imitation, going 6-for-12 from the field with a 3-pointer, seven rebounds and three assists.
“You’ve just got to play the hand that’s dealt to you,” Wafer said. “You just keep working and wait for your chance. That’s all I try to do.”
Houston led 46-45 at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 15-1 run when the Knicks missed their first 13 shots out of the break.
Tim Thomas sank a 3-pointer with 4:11 left in the third quarter to snap New York’s drought, but Alston hit two free throws and Wafer scored again on Houston’s next two trips to keep the Rockets in control.
Houston took a 77-59 lead to the fourth quarter after the Knicks went 5-for-21 from the field with three turnovers, got outrebounded 18-6 and mustered only 14 points in the third quarter.
“Whether it was their good defense or our shooting was off, it’s hard to tell,” said New York’s David Lee, who finished 6-for-13 from the field after hitting his first five shots. “It was a tough third quarter all around.”
The Rockets outrebounded New York 60-38.
Thomas scored 18 points, Nate Robinson had 17 and Lee added 14 points and 11 rebounds for his eighth consecutive double-double for New York.
The Knicks surrounded Yao whenever he touched the ball, so Scola carried Houston’s offense early. Lee outplayed Yao at the other end in the first quarter, scoring 10 points in the first nine minutes.
Both teams struggled to hit shots in the second quarter, including a ragged 3-minute stretch without a single field goal for either side.
Yao put back two offensive rebounds and scored and Wafer sank a 3-pointer on a Rockets’ fast break to put Houston up 42-36 just before the 2-minute mark of the half. Chris Duhon, dealing with flu-like symptoms, swished a 3-pointer and Lee hit two free throws to pull the Knicks within one.
Yao scored inside on two rare open looks, Wafer hit a mid-range jumper and Alston sank a 3-pointer during the Rockets’ decisive spurt in the third quarter.
“Houston came out with more energy than we did,” said Thomas. “They made shots and we didn’t. It’s as simple as that.”
Forward Shane Battier returned for Houston after staying home for the Rockets’ just-completed road trip because of inflammation in his left foot, an injury that’s bothered him since the offseason. Battier had nine points and nine rebounds.
The Knicks are 0-18 when they trail after three quarters and 1-12 when they score fewer than 100 points this season. … Knicks center Eddy Curry sat out with a sore left knee after making his season debut in Dallas on Thursday. Curry missed the first 33 games of the season because of a right knee injury.