China's Yao Ming (R) aims to shoot during a Group A match against Angola at the FIBA Diamond Ball for Men in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, on July 29, 2008. China won 83-74.
Yao Ming scored 21 points in 28 minutes yesterday to lead China to an 83-74 win over Angola, thus continuing his successful return from injury with less then two weeks to go for the Beijing Olympic Games.
The Houston Rockets center marked his full reintegration into a China team that had just weeks ago faced the prospect of heading to the games without their star player.
"Yao lets us really put the pressure on the opposition," China guard Liu Wei said after the opening day of the FIBA Diamond Ball tournament in Nanjing.
Facing a speedy and determined Angola, the 2.28-meter Yao didn't score until nearly halfway through the second quarter, but he then repeatedly combined with former Shanghai Sharks teammate Liu to put China ahead 40-37 at the break.
The two continued their fruitful partnership in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 11 points before Angola came back in the final period. The African champion closed to within three points, but were let down by poor shooting, going just 48 percent from the field and making only 56 percent of their free throws.
"We shot really badly and gave up some really easy offensive opportunities," Angola coach Alberto Carvalho said.
The win avenges a 71-72 loss to Angola in an Olympic warm-up tournament earlier this month. The teams again face each other in Group B at the Olympics along with Germany, Greece, Spain and the United States.
Yao scored eight of his 10 field goals and was 71 percent from the free throw line. He also had five rebounds and was impressive running down the court, showing no sign of discomfort from the stress fracture in his left foot that ended his NBA season in February and threatened his Olympic participation.
Yao returned to light training late last month after X-rays and an MRI scan taken in Houston showed his recovery was on schedule, at about 80 percent healed. Such injuries usually take a year to fully heal.
China coach Jonas Kazlauskas said he would continue to play Yao for 25-30 minutes per game, but would also rely on former Dallas Mavericks center Wang Zhizhi to fill gaps. Wang shot 40 percent from the field for just five points in about 22 minutes, while power forward Yi Jianlian, recently acquired by the New Jersey Nets, had 11 points.
"Of course we always expect more from our big men," the Lithuanian coach said.
In another game, defending Olympic champion Argentina earned an 81-71 win over Iran, which is making its first Olympic basketball appearance since 1948.
(Agencies via Shanghai Daily July 30, 2008)