Yao Ming: 10 Best Games of His Houston Rockets Career
Yao announced his retirement from basketball at a press conference Wednesday from Shanghai, so now is the perfect time to recall the 10 best games of the Chinese legend's NBA career.
Picking a small handful from a heavy litter of phenomenal performances was an arduous task. A few of his monster postseason performances were left out because the Rockets were on the losing end. One in particular was hard to overlook and had to be included.
Everything from the magnitude of the game to the opponent to his statistical output was considered when putting the list together.
If nothing else, this display will remind us what could have been if injuries hadn't cut him down in his prime.
10. Regular Season: Nov. 22, 2008 at Orlando Magic
Stat Line: 22 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 9-for-15 from the field, 4-for-4 at the line.
Result: W, 100-95.
This was the second to last meeting between the league's two best centers, Yao and Dwight Howard, and Yao once again proved to be Superman's kryptonite.
He had 16 of his game-high 22 points in the first half to pace the Rockets in an early season statement victory. He kept Howard grounded throughout, holding him to just 13 points and nine rebounds.
Yao loved to measure himself against the few other premier centers and often put Howard in his place at No. 2. Houston beat Orlando in seven of the nine meetings between the two giants. Yao averaged 23.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, while Howard averaged just 12.2 and 9.8.
9. Regular Season: Dec. 3, 2002 vs. San Antonio Spurs
Stat Line: 27 points, 18 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 10-for-18 from the field, 7-for-7 at the line.
Result: W, 89-75.
After being ridiculed often during the first few weeks of his rookie season, Yao began to show signs of greatness in the days leading up to this game.
But his true breakthrough came against San Antonio. Getting 30 and 16 against the center-less Mavs was one thing, but to do it against Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Co. was another.
Yao was an efficient 10-for-18, and did his part defensively as the Spurs' twin towers combined to shoot just 10-for-29.
Only a month into his career, Yao proved he was a force to be reckoned with.
8. 2005 Playoffs: First Round at Dallas Mavericks, Game 7
Stat Line: 33 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks, 13-for-23 from the field, 7-for-8 at the line.
Result: L, 116-76.
Even six years later it's hard to understand how Houston let this series slip away. For those who forgot what transpired, it will be equally as difficult to fathom how the Rockets got blown out so horribly in a game that Yao was utterly unstoppable.
After blowing Dallas off the floor in two of their three victories and relinquishing late leads in the three losses leading up to the deciding game, Houston was out of gas heading into Game 7.
Everyone but Yao of course. This game was somewhat of a microcosm of his career. People will say Yao never won anything, but you rarely could point the finger at No. 11.
It wasn't his fault management surrounded him with the likes of Jon Barry, Bob Sura, Clarence Weatherspoon and Ryan Bowen for the biggest games of his career.
Come to think of it, after reading that list of names, it's no wonder the Rockets couldn't finish this series.
7. 2007 Playoffs: First Round vs. Utah Jazz, Game 1
Stat Line: 28 points, 13 rebounds, 1 block, 8-for-18 from the field, 12-for-14 from the line.
Result: W, 84-75.
A late season surge gave Houston homecourt advantage in its first round series against their bitter rivals, the Utah Jazz.
Yao made sure the fans left the opener happy, scoring 13 of his game-high 28 points in the second half to help bring the Rockets back from a double-digit deficit.
He didn't have a great night shooting, but Utah had no answer for him down low, evidenced by the 14 trips to the charity stripe.
The Rockets lost the series, again faltering in heartbreaking fashion in Game 7, 103-99. Yao had another strong performance, finishing with 29 points and six rebounds.
6. Regular Season: Feb. 11, 2004 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Stat Line: 29 points, 11 rebounds, 1 block, 10-for-21 from the field, 9-for-11 at the line.
Result: W, 102-87.
Nobody got Yao's blood flowing like Shaquille O'Neal, and vice versa. Yet both had the utmost respect for one another and they formed a strong friendship from the beginning.
This meeting came in Yao's second season when Shaq was still the cream of the center crop. Both played fantastic on this night, but Yao won the battle and the Rockets won the war.
Shaq finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, but hopelessly flailed as Yao scored 15 of his 29 in the fourth quarter.
Houston and Los Angeles met in the playoffs that spring, with the Lakers taking the series in five games.
5. Regular Season: March 11, 2005 at Phoenix Suns
Stat Line: 27 points, 22 rebounds, 5 blocks, 10-for-18 from the floor, 7-for-9 at the line.
Result: W, 127-107.
The '05 Rockets really began to hit their stride in March, winning 12 of 16 games in the month. This was the third win in a six-game streak, and arguably the most complete victory of the season to that point, as the Suns entered the night with a 47-14 record.
I'm guessing Yao received a few pats on the back in the postgame locker room for the way he dominated the Suns' frontcourt.
Yao had as many offensive rebounds as Phoenix did (nine) and outplayed the man some feel Houston should have selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft: Amare Stoudemire.
Stoudemire had 31 points, but shot just 9-for-23 and was defenseless against Houston's Great Wall.
4. Regular Season: Feb. 22, 2004 vs. Atlanta Hawks
Stat line: 41 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks, 15-for-21 from the floor, 11-for-13 from the line.
Result: W, 123-121 (3OT).
On the surface, there isn't much to appreciate here.
Yao put up an incredible line, but it was aided by an extra 15 minutes of overtime, and the Hawks were the NBA's punching bag in 2004.
But this should at least make those who question Yao's heart and early durability think twice. This is what he was capable of before his body failed him.
No other 7'6" human being could remain so dominant during 50 grueling minutes of court time. He scored at will, made his freebies, grabbed just about every rebound and even added seven dimes for good measure.
The big fella scored eight of Houston's nine points in the third overtime, including the game-winning bucket with 23 seconds to play.
3. 2009 Playoffs: First Round at Portland Trailblazers, Game 1
Stat Line: 24 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 9-for-9 from the floor, 6-for-6 at the line.
Result: W, 108-81.
View the numbers, notice the perfection. Then let it sink in that Yao inflicted the damage in just 24 minutes.
Rip City was riding high, playing host to its first playoff game since the "Jailblazers" years. Yao gracefully silenced the raucous crowd from the opening tip, scoring Houston's first seven points and 16 of its first 18 to get the route started.
When word broke that Yao was retiring, his former coach, Rick Adelman, called this performance one of the greatest he had ever seen in his career.
That's coming from a guy who ranks in the top-10 in NBA coaching victories, oversaw the careers of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, and Chris Webber, and was victimized by the great Michael Jordan twice in the NBA Finals.
Yao played well for the rest of the series, but never dominated in this fashion again because Portland simply wouldn't allow it. The extra attention paid to him left Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks and others open and they came through.
Yao's Game 1 masterpiece changed the entire complexion of the series, helping the Rockets advance to the second round for the first time since 1997.
2. 2005 Playoffs: First Round at Dallas Mavericks, Game 2
Stat Line: 33 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 13-for-14 from the field, 7-for-7 from the line.
Result: W, 113-111.
Houston had already claimed homecourt advantage after slapping the Mavericks in Game 1, but it wanted more.
As was the case for much of this series, he absolutely befuddled Erick Dampier and the rest of the Mavericks' frontline. He missed just one shot from the floor and needed only 14 attempts to score 33 points.
The Rockets looked dead, trailing by seven with 5:41 to play, but were in position to steal the win in the waning moments.
That's when Yao took over.
He put them ahead with a layup with 2:49 left. Moments later, he finished a dish from Tracy McGrady to put Houston up 111-109.
In the frantic final seconds, Dirk Nowitzki re-tied the score with 10 seconds to play, just before Yao set a screen at the top of the key to free McGrady for the game-winning jumper.
Houston went home up 2-0 and anything seemed possible.
1. 2009 Playoffs: Western Semifinals at Los Angeles Lakers, Game 1
Stat line: 28 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 9-for-17 from the floor, 10-for-10 at the line.
Result: W, 100-92.
We close with the ultimate 'what if?'
What if Yao never got injured in Game 3? The Rockets rallied to force a Game 7 without his services for the final four games.
What if he regained his 2009 form after the surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot?
What if injuries didn't rob him of his prime?
What if, what if.
It's sad because just days before he would go down and never regain equilibrium, Yao put together the best performance of his career.
He single-handedly crushed the Lakers in Game 1 of what promised to be a classic series, one Houston may have won on the way to a championship had Yao stayed upright.
Pau Gasol had nothing. Andrew Bynum looked like the teenager he was. Phil Jackson couldn't muster up enough Zen to contain Yao.
He was dominant offensively and defensively, and scored eight of his 28 points in the last 4:54 to squelch the Lakers' final push.
The Rockets won Game 1 and had every reason to believe they could advance.
It wasn't meant to be. Seventy-two hours later, Yao would never be the same again.
Thanks for all the memories, big fella. You have been and will continue to be missed by basketball fans everywhere.