Yao scored 24 points and grabbed a season-high 19 rebounds, and the Rockets came back from eight points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Atlanta Hawks 92-84.
Yao scored 10 points in the final eight minutes, when Houston outscored Atlanta 24-8. The Hawks surrounded Yao and forced him to miss five of six shots in the third quarter, but Yao adjusted to their defense in the fourth.
"In the fourth quarter, I tried to catch the ball deeper," said Yao, who hit 11 of 20 shots in the game. "I missed a couple easy layups in the third quarter. I don't know how I missed them. I just needed to continue to shoot them."
Yao came into the game more focused on dominating the boards. He had only four in Monday's 109-97 loss to Memphis and had one in Houston's 103-84 win over San Antonio on Nov. 29.
"It's really bothered me," he said of his rebounding numbers.
Atlanta trailed by as many as 16 in the first half, but held Houston to 14 points in the third quarter and led 76-68 four minutes into the fourth. But Yao scored twice and Carl Landry followed a miss by Artest to cut the Rockets' deficit to two.
Artest swished a 3-pointer from the corner with 5:11 left to put Houston in front, but Al Horford answered with a turnaround. Yao then muscled in for a layup, Rafer Alston sank two free throws and Artest scored on a drive to push the Rockets' lead to 83-78 near the three-minute mark.
Yao rebounded a miss by Zaza Pachulia and Alston hit his second 3-pointer at the other end, and Houston held off the Hawks from there.
The Rockets were playing their seventh straight game without Tracy McGrady, who expects to be out for the rest of this month to nurse a sore left knee. That leaves Yao as Houston's best scoring option, and the Rockets are going to use him as much as they can.
"At the end of the game, Yao took it over," Artest said. "That's what he has to do."
Alston had six assists and scored 12 for Houston, but went 4-for-15 from the field.
Mike Bibby added 15 points for Atlanta.
"It was like we went up by eight, and we got very happy -- like the game was already over," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "They came back and we had no answer for them."
The Rockets opened the game with a 13-0 run as the Hawks missed their first 10 shots. Smith scored on a putback with 6:52 left in the first quarter for Atlanta's first points.
The Hawks missed 22 of their first 26 shots and trailed 31-16 three minutes into the second quarter. After a timeout, Flip Murray swatted away a shot by Landry and found Smith for a dunk to launch Atlanta's rally.
The Rockets were suddenly stagnant and turnover-prone on offense, and Bibby's 3-pointer finished a 14-4 run that cut Houston's lead to 37-32.
Artest sank the Rockets' first 3-pointer of the second quarter with 24 seconds left, boosting the lead to 46-36. Bibby drove for a layup just before the halftime buzzer, the last of his nine first-half points.
Houston had four turnovers in the first two minutes of the second half and Horford's short baseline jumper trimmed the Hawks' deficit to 49-47. Marvin Williams' 3-pointer from the corner on Atlanta's next possession gave the Hawks their first lead.
"We fell asleep a little bit," Artest said. "We got the lead early, but they've got some good players over there."
The Rockets went 4-for-21 from the field and committed five turnovers in the third quarter to trail 62-60.
Yao kept Houston close by continuing to dominate the boards -- he had 17 rebounds after three quarters, topping his previous season high by two.
Johnson scored five points in the first 90 seconds of the final quarter to stretch Atlanta's lead to six.
Artest failed to get a steal for just the second time in 21 games this season. ... All five starters for both teams scored in double figures. ... The Rockets scored 54 points in the paint. ... Houston committed 16 turnovers.