When the percentages caught up to him, Dwyane Wade took over.
Wade sank 12 of 13 foul shots in the final quarter and scored 32
points to lead the Miami Heat to a 101-95 victory over the Rockets.
"I got a rhythm going," said Wade, who also had nine assists.
"The guys just did a good job of putting the ball in my hands."
O'Neal, a 46 percent shooter from the line this season, sank 11
of his first 12 free throws, including 10 in a row. He also had 14
rebounds for Miami. After his good start, O'Neal missed five of his
final six free throws, more on par with his season average.
Early on, his teammates could see how comfortable Shaq was when
he stepped to the line.
"He wasn't missing and he was looking good," Wade said. "He
had that confident look. His eyes were real big and when that
happens, you know he's confident."
O'Neal went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the third
quarter, when the Heat finally started exploiting the absence of
7-foot-6 Yao Ming, who missed his 21st game since undergoing toe
surgery on Dec. 19. Yao is expected back this week, but missed the
chance to face the 7-1 O'Neal on the first day of the Chinese New
"That was a positive note," Miami coach Pat Riley said of
O'Neal's foul shooting. "You could tell he was comfortable."
With 39-year-old Dikembe Mutombo struggling to guard him, O'Neal
had two dunks and sank four free throws during a 10-2 Heat run in
the first three minutes of the second half.
"I got a little rhythm going," O'Neal said. "I was getting
fouled on every play. When I get my rhythm going, it's pretty
Tracy McGrady scored 37 points and helped Houston mount a mild
rally from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit.
With O'Neal out early in the fourth, McGrady scored twice inside
the trim Houston's deficit to 79-70. O'Neal came back with 7:45
left, but the Rockets continued their comeback.
Lonny Baxter hit a reverse layup around O'Neal and Chuck Hayes
put back a McGrady miss to cut Miami's lead to 93-87 heading into
the final minute. Wade answered with a bank shot with 58 seconds
left and swished two free throws 12 seconds later to clinch Miami's
sixth win in its last seven road games.
McGrady sank two deep 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds, but
finished 4-of-15 from 3-point range.
"I don't believe in moral victories. It wasn't enough," said
McGrady, who went 13-of-37 from the field.
McGrady also had 12 rebounds and six assists for the Rockets,
who dropped to 4-15 at the Toyota Center. Rafer Alston added 26
points, but had only 10 points after a 12-point second quarter.
The Rockets got off to a typically bad start at home, trailing
by as many as 11 in the opening 10 minutes.
McGrady missed four of his first five shots and quickly shed the
plastic facemask he's worn since Charlotte's Jake Voskuhl elbowed
him in the nose Wednesday.
Houston trailed 23-16 heading to the second quarter, the 12th
time the Rockets have trailed after one period in 19 home games.
"It's mind-boggling. We're still in the figuring-out process of
why can't we get it done at home?" Alston said. "If we could find
a way to keep them from jumping out early and winning the first
quarter, the pressure would be on them the entire game."
Antoine Walker had a jumper, a 3-pointer and a driving layup
early in the second as Miami pushed the lead to 13.
But with the Heat's defense preoccupied with McGrady, Alston got
open and sparked a Houston rally. Alston hit four of five
3-pointers and scored 16 points in the first half, helping the
Rockets cut the lead to 45-41 at halftime.
With O'Neal continuing to hit free throws, the Heat outscored
Houston 33-20 in the third quarter, holding Alston without a
basket, controlling McGrady and hitting 11 of 22 shots. McGrady had
nine points in the third, but missed seven of 11 shots.
"We came out of the locker room knowing we had let this team
back in the game," Wade said. "We knew we had to get back our
Heat G Jason Williams sat out for the third straight game after
lacerating his right ring finger while weightlifting. ...The game drew 18,199, the largest crowd at the Toyota Center this season.
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