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Yao overcomes injury as Rockets best Lakers in Game 1

The Sports Network

5/5/2009 3:05:38 AM

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) - Yao Ming scored 28 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and overcame a scary injury moment in the fourth quarter as Houston topped the Los Angeles Lakers, 100-92, in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.

Ron Artest contributed 21 points and seven assists for the Rockets, who scored nine straight points in the fourth quarter to go ahead for good.

It was a much different story than the regular season when the Lakers swept the Rockets in all four meetings.

Aaron Brooks ended with 19 points, while Luis Scola netted 10 points and eight boards for the Rockets, who made it out of the opening round for the first time since 1997, ending a string of six straight first-round exits with a series triumph over Portland.

Kobe Bryant had 32 points and eight rebounds for the top-seeded Lakers, who had won 16 of their previous 17 home games, going back to the regular season. Bryant, who missed practice Sunday due to a sore throat, was 14-of-31 from the field, including 1-of-7 from three-point range.

The Lakers, coming off a first-round series win over Utah, also received 14 points and 13 rebounds from Pau Gasol.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven set is Wednesday, again at the Staples Center.

"This wasn't the way we wanted to start the series," said Gasol. "We didn't communicate on defense and our shooting was pretty poor. We can play a lot better. They were smarter than us. They were better than us."

LA went 2-of-18 from three-point range and missed seven of its 19 foul shots.

"We played really bad," said Bryant. "We missed a lot of good looks. We shot horribly from the free-throw line. We'll do better on Wednesday."

The Lakers led for just 47 seconds the entire game. Shannon Brown's two free throws with 8:19 left gave LA a 77-76 edge, but Artest converted a three-point play to put Houston in front for good. Yao then sank a jumper and Brooks hit a runner. A Brooks layup capped the burst for the 85-77 cushion.

Gasol jammed to give the Lakers hope, on a play where Yao went down hard to the floor, clutching his right knee with 4:54 remaining. Bryant drove to the lane, but his left knee collided with Yao's knee. The Chinese superstar winced in pain while on his back before being helped toward the locker room, but he tested out the knee in the tunnel and returned just 54 seconds later.

Yao even hit a 21-foot jumper, expanding the lead to 87-81, and Artest followed with a bucket. Yao also drained six free throws down the stretch.

"They pressured us, but we didn't lose our composure," said Artest. "Our guards played so well. I was proud of Yao, he didn't even make it to the training room. He knew we needed him."

After the game Yao said his knee was nothing to worry about.

"When I got hit I knew I was coming back," said Yao. "I was so sore at the moment. I felt like I just needed a minute and soreness would go away. I felt so bad at that moment, but I know I'm fine."

The Lakers hadn't played in a week since wrapping up the series against the Jazz, but were outclassed in the first half. The Rockets led by as many as seven in the first quarter and went into the second ahead, 21-18.

Trevor Ariza's hook shot gave LA a 24-23 edge, but Houston scored the ensuing eight points, capped by Carl Landry's layup. Bryant's jumper, though, in the closing seconds, had the Lakers within 43-40 at the half.

"We never got into a flow or feel of the game," said Lakers guard Derek Fisher. "We weren't sharp offensively or defensively. I'm disappointed more than anything."

Houston led throughout the third quarter, although Jordan Farmar's three- pointer in the final seconds had the hosts within 70-67 moving to the fourth. It was a grudge match from there until the Rockets went on their big run.

"We executed. We did a great job of getting Yao the ball when he was open," said Rockets guard Kyle Lowry. "We didn't let them control the game. We controlled the game."

Game Notes

This was the 283rd playoff game for Lakers coach Phil Jackson, passing Pat Riley for the most all-time in NBA history...Rockets forward Shane Battier had to get stitches to close a cut above his eye in an injury suffered late in the first quarter...Ariza and Andrew Bynum each had 10 points for the Lakers...Yao made all 10 of his free throws.