Stingy Rockets hold off BucksJan 1, 2009 - 3:46 AM By Jeremy Rakes PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
HOUSTON (Ticker) -- With the prospect of another surprising home loss staring them in the face, the Houston Rockets did what they do best - clamp down on the defensive end.
After watching their lead slip away Wednesday night, the Rockets put their collective foot down to hold off the Milwaukee Bucks, 85-81.
"We struggled again, but we did enough to win the game, which is a key part of it," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We just have to find a way to play a little bit better."
Yao Ming scored 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the way, but it was a few key defensive possessions down the stretch that made the difference.
Having fallen at the Toyota Center to the lowly Washington Wizards just two nights earlier, the Rockets were trying to avoid their second straight loss. They nearly blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, but hit 7-of-8 free throws in the final 37 seconds to pull it out.
"The only good thing about this is that we get to live another day and New Year's is today," Houston forward Ron Artest said. "Other than that, that win was horrible. We've got to play better and that's it. There's so much of the game where we have to play better. To sum it up, that win was not even a win."
Houston extended its lead into double digits in the fourth as Carl Landry scored five straight points, burying a jumper to give the Rockets a 74-63 lead with seven minutes left. The Bucks staged a 14-4 run - led by six points from All-Star guard Michael Redd - to cut their deficit to 78-77 with 2:16 to play.
"We were a step slow and we just had too many turnovers to overcome," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We bounced back in the second half with a lot more energy."
But the Rockets came up with three big defensive stands in a row to keep the Bucks at bay. Milwaukee turned the ball over on its next possession and misfired from 3-point range twice in the final minute. Ron Artest knocked down two free throws with 37 seconds left to give Houston a three-point lead.
Luke Ridnour had a chance to tie the game with 22 seconds left, but his 3-point attempt missed.
"They have good players - Redd can get hot at any time, Jefferson, Ridnour - they have a good solid team and fortunately, we were able to get a good couple of stops to make some plays," Adelman said.
Aaron Brooks hit two free throws on the other end to extend the lead to 82-77. After Richard Jefferson cut the deficit to three on a layup, Rafer Alston split a pair at the foul line to give Houston a four-point edge.
Jefferson, however, missed a 3-pointer and Alston hit both free throws on the other end to extend the lead to 85-79 and effectively put the game on ice.
"It is a good win, but we still don't have the energy and intensity that we need out there," Alston said. "We picked it up late in the fourth quarter, but right now, it doesn't matter what half it is because from start to finish we are not getting it done."
All-Star guard Tracy McGrady - who has been hobbled all season with a bad knee - struggled once again to find his shot, but chipped in 10 assists to go with seven points. Artest added 15 points off the bench, and Landry netted 14 points for Houston. Luis Scola had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"It was a very important win for us. We needed it big-time," Scola said. "We've got a lot of work to do. We didn't play the way we have to, but we got the win."
Redd paced Milwaukee with 22 points while Ridnour collected 11 and 11 assists.
The Rockets took control early, as their lead grew to as many as 15 in the second quarter. Artest sparked an 18-6 run with a jumper and capped it with a free throw with 2:54 remaining in the half to make it a 45-30 ballgame.
Milwaukee used a 14-4 run to begin the third quarter and cut Houston's lead to one, 51-50, on Ridnour's jumper with 6:27 left in the third. That would be as close as the Bucks could get as Houston took a five-point lead into the final session.
"I think that when you are up with a team like that, we have to realize that we can't give any team hope in this league. We just have to put them away," McGrady said. "When you give them hope, they feel they can win. That's exactly what happens, that's what happened at the end of the game."
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