Francis and Mobley combine for 64 for Houston


BOSTON (AP) -- The fans came to see Yao Ming, and for most of the
game they saw a 7-foot-6 decoy.

Cuttino Mobley scored 31 points, hitting a 3-pointer to force
overtime and another for the game-winner to lead Houston to a
101-95 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday as Yao made his
Boston debut before a sellout crowd on Asian-American Night.

''They were all over Yao and this was a great learning
experience for him,'' Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. ''This
was the most concentrated defense I have seen on one guy this
season defending Yao.''

Steve Francis returned after missing a game with a sore back and
scored 33 with nine rebounds and nine assists, hitting two free
throws with 20 seconds left in overtime. He added a breakaway dunk
for insurance with 8.6 seconds left.

''They were double- and triple-teaming the big fella,'' Francis
said. ''As much as we wanted to get him the ball, I think he
understood because they had so many arms and legs on him that we
didn't really want to force it.''

Yao had just nine points on two shots as the Celtics banged him
around and denied him the ball at the low post. But he hit a nice
skyhook in the lane with 3:59 left in the fourth to cap an 11-0 run
that cut the Celtics' lead to four points as the Rockets scored 20
of the last 25 points in regulation.

''They guarded me very tight, but we won,'' Yao said through an

Antoine Walker had 22 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and
Eric Williams had 11 points and 11 boards as the Celtics lost to
the Rockets for the fifth consecutive time.

Boston led 83-68 with 7:13 left in the fourth, but the Celtics
made just two baskets the rest of regulation -- both by Pierce. He
made it 88-85 with a fadeaway jumper with 2:29 left, but a minute
later Francis stole the ball away and fed Mobley for the tying 3.

''No way, being at home, we should blow that type of lead,''
said Paul Pierce, who scored 22. ''We had the lead in the fourth
quarter and let it get away.''

Both teams missed two chances to win it in regulation.

Houston led 92-91 in overtime when Walker hit a runner over Yao.
But Mobley answered with a 3-pointer to give the Rockets the lead
for good.

Yao then got the ball in the low post and was immediately fouled
by Battie. He sank both free throws. Battie made a layup to cut the
deficit to two points, but Francis made two free throws and then
broke free for the dunk that clinched it.

Hundreds of Asian-Americans waved Chinese flags and held up
signs in Chinese while cheering Yao's every move. That he was held
without a shot or a rebound for the first quarter did little to
damper their enthusiasm.

He finally grabbed a rebound with 4:37 left in the half. A
minute later, he was fouled going to the basket, and the crowd
cheered loudly even when he missed his second free throw.

The Celtics returned from a 4-2 road trip, during which they
traded Shammond Williams for Mark Blount and Mark Bryant. Blount,
who played for Boston the last two years, backed up Battie instead
of Vin Baker, who did not play.

The Celtics scored the game's first nine points and led by as
many as 12 in the first quarter, 26-14, before the Rockets made it
27-22 after one.

Game notes
Francis started after missing the previous game Saturday
with a sore lower back. ... Ming Tsai, the host of the cooking show
''East meets West,'' met Yao before the game and gave him a bagful
of cooking supplies. A representative of the Chinese embassy also
met Yao before the game. ... Baker did not play for the second
consecutive game since Boston traded for Blount. ... Pierce injured
his back when he slipped on the ice over the weekend.