SHANGHAI, China -- Playing in his hometown before an adoring crowd that chanted his name, Yao Ming had the jitters.
He missed his first two shots and allowed Brad Miller to score against him repeatedly early in the first quarter.
Soon, though, he settled down, finishing with 14 points to lead the Houston Rockets to an 88-86 win over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday in the first
exhibition game played in China.
"I didn't play a great game. I was really nervous in the first half. It was almost like the feeling I had playing in my first NBA game," Yao said. "I
felt suffocated and I just wanted to find an exit, but I just tried to focus on technical details and then things settled down."
In addition to leading the Rockets in scoring, Yao played 27 minutes and grabbed seven rebounds. The teams will play another exhibition game Sunday in
Yao said another factor for his slow start may have been the heavy schedule of appearances ranging from television appearances to a visit to his old
primary school to promote reading.
"Those outside activities were very important to me, and to the kids and others, but it did make it a little harder for me," Yao said. "I felt much
better today when I could get back on familiar territory on the basketball court."
Yao scored in the seventh minute with a decisive dunk, then added two more points on a short pass from Tracy McGrady. He was replaced by Dikembe
Mutombo with three minutes left in the quarter as Houston fell behind 21-10. Yao returned in the second quarter and quickly racked up eight more
points, six of them on free throws and two on an alley-oop from McGrady that drew big cheers from the capacity crowd at Shanghai's city gymnasium.
It was the second pairing of Yao and McGrady since the two-time scoring champion's move from the Orlando Magic in a trade last summer. Houston coach
Jeff Van Gundy said he thought both players could do better.
"I don't think either one played as well as they could have tonight. But I think they'll have very good seasons, both individually and together," Van
Liu Wei of Sacramento, a teammate of Yao's on China's national team, entered the game a minute and a half into the second quarter and got on the board
three minutes later with a jump shot.
Yao had said he wouldn't cut Liu any slack and fouled him with two minutes left in the half. On the ground, Liu looked up at Yao for a helping hand,
but Yao remained where he was, hands on his hips.
Still, Yao had postgame praise for Liu, who started training with Kings this summer.
"He played very well and his performance was really up to his usual high standards," Yao said.
The Kings ended the third quarter ahead 72-67 on a 3-pointer by Chris Webber from half-court at the buzzer. Sacramento stretched its lead to nine
points in the fourth quarter, but Houston fought back and Tyronn Lue hit a pair of free throws to seal the win as the crowd chanted "Yao Ming! Yao
Ming!" and the hometown hero sat on the bench and smiled.