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Yao's 21 points helps Rockets edge Spurs

Jan 20, 2008 - 5:42 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- It wasn't pretty, but Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets held on for the win.

Yao scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Rockets posted an 83-81 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday.

Rafer Alston scored 16 points and All-Star Tracy McGrady finished with nine after missing 11 consecutive games for Houston, which eked out the win despite poor foul shooting at the end.

"We've had some games this season where we've struggled to win in the fourth quarter," Yao said. "Today, we hung in there. Everyone was playing hard, especially on defense."

McGrady also was just happy to get back into the flow for Houston and hopes to make bigger contributions as he fully heals.

"It's a process of knowing that, if I were to wait until I get to 100 percent, then I would probably be waiting until the end of the season," McGrady said. "I made up my mind that I was going to come out and play. I went through two hard practices that went pretty good, and I felt like I would give it a shot."

The Rockets, who snapped a two-game slide, sent the Spurs to their sixth loss in seven road games.

"It was a much better effort for us, but we didn't have the punch to get the win on the road," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said.

After Ginobili drilled a 3-pointer to cut San Antonio's deficit to 80-79 with 2:47 left, Yao dunked on Tim Duncan to give the Rockets a three-point advantage with 2:24 remaining.

Duncan responded with a layup with 1:32 left to again close within one before Houston had a series of misses from the foul line that nearly gave the Spurs a win.

Houston missed two straight jumpers before Yao went to the free-throw line to try and increase the Rockets' lead with seven seconds remaining. The Shanghai native, who connected on 7-of-10 from the floor, missed both attempts, but teammate Shane Battier tipped his second miss out to Alston, who was fouled with 2.4 seconds left.

"Luis (Scola) and Shane sacrificed their bodies for the team," Alston said of Scola and Battier, who both got their hands on the basketball before Alston was fouled. "I don't know many guys that will go in there with those big guys, tap the ball and keep it alive to give us an extra opportunity to win."

"That was the ballgame right there," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Their extra effort in the last two minutes killed us. Both teams were trying their butts off."

Alston missed the first before nailing the second, giving San Antonio one more shot trailing, 83-81. However, Matt Bonner missed a off-balance jumper from just inside the free-throw line to send the Spurs to their second straight loss and sixth in their last 11 overall.

Duncan said the design of the game's last play worked - except for the result.

"There were three or four different options on the play," Duncan said. "I was even an option at the end. (Bonner) gets a wide open shot and took it. It just didn't go down."

Houston won despite going 39 percent (32-of-83) from the field and missing eight of 20 free throws.

Duncan scored 24 points and hauled in 17 rebounds and Ginobili scored 21 for San Antonio, which shot 45 percent (32-of-71) and is just 6-9 away from the AT&T Center this season.

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