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Rockets beat Bucks in first matchup between Chinese players

Nov 10, 2007 - 6:07 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- There was a sellout crowd of 18,244 at the Toyota Center, but this game was of far more interest on the other side of the world.

In a game that featured the first NBA matchup between players from China, Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets beat Yi Jianlian and the Milwaukee Bucks, 104-88, on Friday.

After being the face of Chinese basketball in the league the past five seasons, Yao has been joined by Yi, the sixth overall pick in June's draft. And neither disappointed an estimated 200 million viewers back in their homeland.

"I was concerned only about the game," Yi said through an interpreter. "I wasn't thinking about anything outside the court."

"It wasn't Yi-vs.-Yao. It was the Rockets against the Bucks. I was concerned about the big game and sad about losing in the end."

The 27-year-old Yao, selected No. 1 overall by Houston five years ago, came in averaging 21.2 points and 11.0 rebounds, and he surpassed those numbers in this one. The 7-5 center had 28 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks while converting all 14 of his free throws as Houston improved to 5-1.

Yi entered averaging 14 points and six rebounds in his last two games after two shaky outings to start the season, but he too was brilliant. The 7-0 perimeter player converted 7-of-11 shots, including both of his 3-pointers, for a season-high 19 points to go with nine rebounds.

The two met near midcourt after the contest, hugged and shook hands. Then minutes later, they sat side-by-side at a press conference and fielded questions from more than 30 reporters, including at least 20 Chinese news people.

"It's sad to think," Yao said with a smile. "But he may be better than me before he's finished."

Yao was asked why he thought that. "Because I'm older," he said laughing. Yi scored only two points the first half but said he wasn't nervous nor thinking about the millions of viewers watching from China.

The two have played on the Chinese national team and will play on it in the next Olympics.

"In my mind, the Olympics is one of the most important games," Yi said. "But also this season with the Bucks is important as I am struggling to improve my game."

Yao believes his countryman will only get better.

"The first time I saw him was in 2004 and I knew one day he would be something," Yao said. "The first game I saw him this year he didn't play very well. But he showed he had talent. Each summer I have watched him in the national training camp and he just gets better and better."

The Rockets also were impressed.

"Yi has a very good shot," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "I think he's going to be very good. We said before the game he couldn't shoot outside but he made two 3s. That's not going to be a problem for him.

"I was surprised how athletic he was. As big as he is, once he gets the feeling of the NBA, he's going to be a very good player."

Rockets superstar Tracy McGrady agreed.

"He was pretty good," McGrady said of Yi. "Obviously he has a tremendous upside. He started off slow tonight. Maybe he had a little bit of the jitters.

"But he's an athlete. For a guy to be 7-foot and with ball-handling skills and moves like that really shows you something. He's a player and his basketball IQ is going to grow.

Houston led throughout, but Yi knocked down a pull-up jumper from the left wing to pull Milwaukee within 82-79 with 8:15 left. He knocked down a 3-pointer two minutes later to get the Bucks within 84-82.

"He started a little tight," Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said of Yi. "Then he got going with reckless abandon. A lot of people in China have a lot to be proud of with Yao and Yi. I didn't know what to expect of him. But his ability to understand the game puts him way ahead of a lot of rookies in this league."

The Rockets, however, responded with an inside muscle move by Bonzi Wells, a straightaway 3-pointer by McGrady and two more baskets by Wells, who finished with a season-high 18 points and seven rebounds. Wells converted an acrobatic drive along the right baseline, then hit a jumper from the right corner that established a 93-82 lead with four minutes left.

Houston had a 50-41 lead in a cold-shooting first half. The Rockets shot just 40 percent (18-of-45), but Yao scored 14 points, McGrady added 10 and the defense held Milwaukee to just 35 percent (17-of-49) in the opening 24 minutes.

Only 17 points by Michael Redd on 7-of-15 shooting kept the Bucks afloat. His teammates sank just 10-of-34 shots in the half.

Redd finished with 26 points on 8-of-22 shooting.

  • 15
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