for this game

Alston, Scola take over as Rockets edge Knicks

Jan 10, 2008 - 4:23 AM By Larry Fleisher PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Without Tracy McGrady, the Houston Rockets have found others to step up. That was evident during the fourth quarter on Wednesday.

Rafer Alston and rookie Luis Scola combined for 39 points in the game and took over in final quarter as the Rockets extended their winning streak to four games with a 101-92 victory over the New York Knicks.

Yao Ming scored a season-high 36 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Houston but was on the bench for part of the fourth when Alston and Scola went off.

"It's a big boost knowing you can go to Luis Scola off the bench," Rockets forward Shane Battier said. "He played great tonight. He was aggressive. The best teams in this league get production from other places on different nights than from their stars and, with that other scoring option, we'll be a tougher team to beat."

Yao took a seat with 9:17 remaining with the Rockets holding a six-point edge. During his brief rest, Scola and Alston helped extend the edge to 11.

"That was a big factor," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "I needed to give (Yao) a blow. He had played the whole second half, and that was huge. We got the 11-point lead with him sitting down."

"Great, because it gave Yao some breathing time," Rockets guard Luther Head added. "He scored most of the first points in the first half, and the second half I think everyone chipped in a little bit, and they gave a little bit more."

Alston hit a 3-pointer for a seven-point bulge with 7:13 remaining, Scola buried a 20-footer on the next possession and, after Chuck Hayes stole Stephon Marbury's pass, Alston hit a 20-footer with 6:33 left for an 87-76 edge.

During the decisive spurt, Houston also improved defensively. After allowing the Knicks to shoot 47 percent through three, it forced New York to miss seven of its first eight shots and commit five turnovers.

"It's impressive," Alston said. "We're playing with a lot of confidence. Some guys are agressive, and we're doing it on the other end of the court, and that's where it counts the most."

The Knicks still hung in and were within 93-87 on a basket by Eddy Curry with just under four minutes remaining. But Yao finished off the win by scoring four straight points.

The efforts of Yao, Alston and Scola helped the Rockets improve to 7-3 in their last 10 and 6-2 without McGrady, who sat out with a left knee injury. Alston and Scola combined for 16 of Houston's 26 points and shot 7-of-12 in the final 12 minutes.

"I think this team has more confidence playing without T-Mac right now," Yao said. "It doesn't mean we don't need him. We have struggled before but we have found a way to play without him. We are just waiting for him to come back because we will be even better."

A New York City playground legend, Alston finished with 20 points on 8-of-17 from the floor. He has averaged 17.1 points and has shot 45 percent (53-of-118) in his eight games since McGrady's injury.

Scola finished with 19 points on 9-of-18 from the floor. He has averaged 10.8 points and has shot 54 percent (40-of-74) in his last eight contests.

"I think it's good for us," Scola said. "When he (McGrady) returns, we got everybody back. He's always going to be there, he's always going to show up. The fact that we have more options is going to be great for us."

The Rockets were able to overcome blowing an early 12-point lead en route to a three-point deficit at halftime. They did so with Yao scoring in a variety of ways against any defender that New York coach Isiah Thomas put on him.

Houston never had control until it scored nine of the first 11 points in the fourth. It was in that stretch that Thomas was ejected for berating - and possibly bumping - official Eric Lewis with 11:19 remaining.

"I was close enough in his ear that he could hear me," Thomas said. "I didn't bump him or anything like that. The reaction that I gave, you can look at it two ways. You can just give him a tech or be thrown out of the game."

The Knicks failed to win consecutive games for the third time and first time since beating Chicago and Utah November 24-26. They dropped to 9-25, have lost eight of nine and four in a row at home.

"We didn't have best fourth quarter," New York forward David Lee said. "I think our team fought hard. The last couple of games we have been playing a lot closer to the way we want to play."

Jamal Crawford scored 21 points for the Knicks, who overcame missing their first 12 shots to take a 53-50 edge at halftime on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Nate Robinson. The Knicks led by six early in the third but fell behind for good when Yao hit a pair of free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining for a 75-74 edge.

New York managed to stay competitive and even lead despite being unable to stop Yao, who had 20 points at halftime.

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