for this game

Artest, McGrady return to lead Rockets over Pistons

Jan 26, 2009 - 3:56 AM By Chuck Klonke PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Houston Rockets were without All-Star center Yao Ming on Sunday, but their offense hardly skipped a beat.

Ron Artest scored 24 points and Tracy McGrady added 15 in their return to the lineup as the Rockets held on for a 108-105 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Luis Scola chipped in 21 points and Rafer Alston had 14 with 10 assists for the Rockets, who caused the Pistons problems with their perimeter shooting and had six players score in double figures.

"We have a lot of players who have played a lot this season," Artest said. "They have a lot of confidence. They're not afraid to make mistakes. They have some experience under their belts. We aren't playing with a bunch of guys who haven't played before.

"We had good ball movement. The ball was finding the open man, and that had a lot to do with Rafer and T-Mac."

Richard Hamilton came off the bench to lead Detroit with 27 points and Rasheed Wallace added 22.

Houston scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, five by Alston, to match its biggest lead of the game, 96-81, with 10:23 to go.

Detroit's 15-4 run - which came without Allen Iverson - cut the deficit to 105-103 on a layup by Hamilton with 24 seconds remaining. Artest, returning to action after missing six games with an ankle injury, was fouled and hit both free throws with 14 seconds left.

"I think they were a little more aggressive and they were going to their guys who were making shots," McGrady said. "They found a weakness in our defense, getting into the interior and getting to the free-throw line."

After another basket by Hamilton, Artest split a pair of free throws and Houston's lead was 108-105 with 10.2 seconds remaining. But Wallace and Arron Afflalo both missed 3-point attempts in the final seconds.

Artest was glad to have the opportunity to secure the victory with his free throws.

"We had a lot of guys going to the ball and (Detroit) didn't want T-Mac to get it," Artest said. "You've got to want to take those shots in the clutch. I had a chance to get some experience at that when I was with Sacramento."

Rockets coach Rick Adelman looked relieved to escape with the victory.

"They had great offensive statistics and I don't know how we ended up pulling it out, but we made some big plays," Adelman said. "We got a big stop there at the end."

Yao's absence wasn't really felt until the final minutes of the game.

"We got stagnant (on offense), and we've got to figure out what we're going to do when Yao isn't there in the fourth quarter," Adelman said. "We usually go to him and make people guard him."

The Rockets shot 65 percent, including 8-of-12 from the arc, in the first half. Scola, starting in place of Yao, went 7-of-7 from the field before the break as Houston took a 61-57 edge into the locker room.

"Since we had the small lineup, we did a great job of being unselfish, moving the ball and taking advantage of having a lot of scorers out there," McGrady said. "That's what got us off to a good start, and we shot extremely well."

"Through the first three or four possessions, they hit open shots," Prince said. "Then we started playing defense - when guys are making shots already. That's tough because then they're already in a good rhythm. That was the case tonight."

Coach Michael Curry also felt that the Pistons could have played better defensively at the start of the game.

"The reality is, we didn't play hard enough in the first quarter," Curry said.

Detroit went ahead for the first time in the game, 69-68, when Iverson split a pair of free throws with 6:40 remaining in the third quarter. The Rockets finished the third quarter with a 10-3 spurt to take a 89-81 advantage into the fourth quarter.

"There were a lot of positives tonight with getting Ron and Tracy back and trying to get a feel of how we're going to play," Adelman said. "We were able to play small for most of the night, and that's a tough lineup for teams to try and guard."