Scola shines in Yao's absence as Artest's free throws sink Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Houston Rockets figured out a way to win without Yao Ming.

The Detroit Pistons only wish they could do the same with Allen Iverson and Richard Hamilton.

Ron Artest scored three of his 24 points at the line in the final 14 seconds, helping the Houston hold off Detroit for a 108-105 win Sunday night.

"This is a big win for us on the road," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "They had great offensive statistics, so I'm not even sure how we won the game."

The Pistons made 56 percent of their shots and had just five turnovers, but were doomed after giving up 39 points -- 21 on 3-pointers -- in the opening quarter.

They are 2-6 since Hamilton returned from a groin injury and are 20-19 since acquiring Iverson from Denver for Chauncey Billups.

"It's sickening," Detroit's Antonio McDyess said.

The Pistons have been searching for ways to be successful and the latest attempt failed.

Despite trailing by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Pistons had a chance to force overtime after Artest missed a free throw with 10 seconds left.

Following a timeout, Rasheed Wallace missed a hurried 3-pointer and Arron Afflalo missed another 3 after scurrying for the loose ball. Afflalo was essentially playing for Iverson, who was on the court for only 1 minute in the final quarter.

Rookie coach Michael Curry insisted he went with the group that gave his team its best chance to win.

Iverson, who had 17 points and eight assists, acknowledged he's frustrated.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't," he said. "I think I can do more to help us win basketball games.

"When the opportunity presents itself, I'll be here to take on the challenge. But I'm going to stay positive and stay focused."

The Rockets have been banged up for much of the season, missing Artest for the previous seven games and 13 overall with an injured right ankle and McGrady for six straight games and 16 overall with a sore left knee.

But they usually could count on Yao.

Yao's right knee was still sore, though, after injuring it Friday and he was out for just the second time this season.

"The good thing is that it wasn't like we were putting new players out there," Artest said.

After scoring a season-high 25 points in the previous game, Luis Scola made all seven of his shots in the first half and finished with 21 as Yao's replacement at center.

McGrady scored 15, Shane Battier and Rafer Alston both added 14, and Von Wafer scored 10.

"I didn't get tired, which surprised me," McGrady said. "I played 37 minutes and still felt good."

Hamilton scored 27, Wallace had 22 points and Rodney Stuckey had 14 points and eight assists.

Curry worried about Houston's wide-open style without Yao, who hopes to return to the lineup Monday night in New York, and his fears were realized early.

The Rockets were 7-of-9 on 3-pointers in the first quarter -- one from matching the NBA high for a quarter -- to take a 12-point lead.

"That was huge," Adelman said. "We knew that we were going to spread the floor and that, until they adjusted, we were going to get a lot of good shots. Fortunately, we knocked a lot of them down."

Hamilton, in his third game off the bench for the Pistons, scored 12 points in the second quarter to pull Detroit with four points at halftime.

The Pistons went ahead twice midway through the third quarter, but the Rockets went on a 17-3 run that started late in quarter and ended with them ahead 96-81.

Houston lost a big cushion in the fourth, but made enough hustle plays and free throws to seal its seventh victory in nine games.

"We got stagnant in the second half," Adelman said. "In that situation, we usually go to Yao, and we needed to find a way to do something different with him not in the game."

Game notes
The Rockets scored 76 points in back-to-back quarters, 37 in the fourth against Indiana and 39 in the first Sunday, for their two highest-scoring quarters this season. ... Artest was booed early and often at The Palace, where fans will never forget his role in the 2004 infamous brawl when he played for the Pacers. ... The Pistons fell to 1-7 on Sundays. ... Wallace had 20-plus points for the first time in a month and he's scoring 12 a game, his lowest average since he was a rookie 13 years ago in Washington. ... The Rockets improved to 16-7 with Artest in the lineup. ... The Rockets were stuck on a broken bus in the loading dock, waiting for another to arrive, for more than an hour after the game before boarding a flight for New York.