Rockets beat Bucks
Yao scored 12 points and added 12 rebounds for Houston, sitting for much of the first half after getting in early foul trouble and tweaking his ankle just before halftime.
Yi scored six points on miserable 1-for-10 shooting.
„Both of us struggled a little bit, but we got the win,“ Yao said.
Yi hurt his shoulder early on but said the injury „wasn’t any big problem.“ Despite another high-profile showdown with his home country’s biggest basketball star, Yi tried to keep the game in perspective.
„As far as we’re concerned, in the grand scope of things, it’s another regular-season game,“ Yi said through a translator.
Tracy McGrady scored 33 to lead Houston, hitting several jumpers to hold off a late Bucks rally.
Australian Andrew Bogut added to the game’s international flavor with 21 points to lead Milwaukee, often getting the best of Yao on both ends of the court.
The Bucks kept it close deep into the fourth quarter, as Bogut had a chance for a three-point play after making a hook shot over Yao and getting fouled. The shot cut Houston’s lead to 78-74 with 2:54 remaining, but Bogut missed the free throw and McGrady hit a 19-foot jumper on the other end to put Houston ahead by seven.
McGrady then hit another long jumper to put Houston up 83-74 with 1:36 left. Milwaukee’s Bobby Simmons hit three 3-pointers in the final 44.5 seconds, but the Bucks’ rally fell short.
Milwaukee has lost three straight, including a 43-point loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday. Houston has won three straight.
Yao and Yi’s first meeting on an NBA court, Nov. 9 in Houston, was watched by an audience estimated between 100 and 200 million people in China.
A similar audience was expected for Saturday’s game, which was being broadcast live by three networks in greater China and on tape delay by a fourth. Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak dubbed it the „Chinese Super Bowl.“
„It is big,“ Yao said. „To be honest, I was a little bit nervous last night. ... It’s like a playoff game or something.“
But overseas fans looking for an offensive outburst by either Chinese star might have been fiddling with their remotes by the second half.
Yao got off to a rough start, committing two early turnovers and heading to the bench after picking up his second foul with 5:23 left in the first quarter. He didn’t return until the 7:22 mark in the second quarter.
Yao then tweaked his ankle just before halftime, landing awkwardly after being fouled by Yi on a dunk attempt. Yao stayed in the game to hit one of two free throws, then went on to score nine points and add nine rebounds in the second half.
The Bucks decided to make Saturday’s game into an early Chinese New Year party, featuring Chinese musical performers in the stadium’s atrium area before the game and adding Chinese fare to the concession stands. Signs were posted saying „Happy New Year“ in Chinese and English.
Yao and Yi embraced and posed for photographs at midcourt during the pregame shootaround on Saturday and both took questions from a small but eager horde of Chinese reporters before the game.
Yao laughed when asked by a Chinese reporter whether he would prefer the Rockets move to the Eastern Conference because it would be easier to make the playoffs.
„Let’s move on to another subject,“ Yao answered in his native language.
Rockets teammate Rafer Alston said the team enjoyed the media circus the first time around, and didn’t mind seeing more of the same.
„For everyone else, other than Yao and Yi, we enjoy being a part of it,“ Alston said.
But Alston wasn’t quite buying the idea that the expected massive Chinese television audience made Saturday’s game a bigger deal worldwide than the Super Bowl.
„There’ll be more viewers (Saturday),“ Alston said, „but the ‘care factor’ shoots through the roof tomorrow.“
Yi held his own against his more-established countryman in the teams’ first meeting, as both players put on more of an offensive show. Yi scored 19 points and had nine rebounds in Houston.
But Houston went on to win 104-88, as Yao led the Rockets with 28 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Yao also went 14-for-14 from the free throw line in that game, tying a team record for most free throws made in a game without a miss.