Yao was impressive throughout -- shooting 12-for-19 from the floor on an assortment of shots, including turnarounds, jump hooks and stuffs. He scored eight of the Rockets' last 13 points as Houston staved off a Phoenix comeback in the closing minutes.
"He was aggressive," McGrady said of Yao, who had only 12 points on 4-of-17 shooting and six rebounds in the Rockets' 115-105 loss to the Suns on Nov. 17 when Houston played without McGrady. "If he plays like that every night, we'll be a helluva team.
"When I didn't play, it was tough for Yao to get easy shots. They double-teamed him even when he didn't have the ball. Having me out there made things easier for him."
The seldom-used Francis didn't have huge numbers -- nine points, three rebounds and seven assists -- but his play off the bench gave the Rockets a big lift.
"I try to get myself ready when I'm called upon," Francis, who had played in only three previous games, said after playing a season-high 27 minutes. "I still have a long way to go; I still don't have my rhythm and timing.
"Me and the coach (Rick Adelman) have been having conversations about me coming in and giving the team a spark."
He did that Wednesday night, including a block on an Amare Stoudemire jumper with 16.9 seconds remaining and Houston clinging to a 98-94 lead.
The Suns, who trailed by as many as eight points in the final period, closed to 96-94, on Nash's jumper with 50 seconds left, but Francis scored on a drive with 29.9 seconds to go and Alston hit a layup for the final score.
Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni was disappointed by his team's effort.
"We just have to dig a little deeper, work a little harder," he said. "We'll get through this. We just didn't finish up the little things. We're just not sharp."
Stoudemire was more positive.
"There is no need to panic," he said. "We just need to improve. We're still in good shape and we're still confident."
Fueled by the little-used Francis, the Rockets overcame a 28-27 first-quarter deficit and took an 11-point lead midway through the second period. Francis, who played a season-high 27 minutes, led a 19-7 run in the opening 5:43 of the quarter to give Houston a 46-35 advantage. During that span, Francis had seven points, three assists and one steal.
The Suns narrowed the deficit to 56-52 at halftime with the help of Marion's seven points and two 3-pointers by Nash in the final 4:47.
Yao, meanwhile, was dominating. He had 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, and six rebounds in the first half. In the first period, he showed his versatility by scoring on a fast-break dunk, then a left-handed hook.
Nash led the Suns at halftime with 18 points; he went 3-for-4 beyond the arc.
The first period was marked by 10 lead changes and eight ties. In that time, Yao and McGrady nearly accounted for all of the Rockets' offense, taking 15 of the team's 20 shots and scoring 22 of the 27 points.
The third quarter was marred by turnovers and poor shooting, with each team scoring only 19 points. At the end, Houston led 77-73. After the Suns briefly regained the lead in the period, 64-63, Houston ran off eight consecutive points for a 71-64 advantage.
- Before the game, the Suns assigned rookie forward Alando Tucker to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the NBA Development League.
- The Suns' Leandro Barbosa celebrated his 25th birthday Wednesday.
- Nash extended his free-throw streak to 44 consecutive makes by hitting all four of his attempts.
- The loss ended the Suns' five-game home winning streak.