McGrady Delivers on Time for Rockets
Houston 76, L.A. Lakers 74
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 18 (Ticker) -- With one All-Star already back in Houston, Tracy McGrady sent the rest of his teammates home on a high note.
McGrady scored 20 points, including a go-ahead layup with three-tenths of a second left, as the Houston Rockets posted a 76-74 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers to wrap up a 5-1 road trip.
"Coming on a six-game road trip was either going to make or break us," McGrady said. "It was really going to determine our season. We could've have been 7-17 if we dropped these games on the road. We were hungry and we were really confident. We lost a real good game to the Clippers last night but we wanted to end it on a positive note before we went home."
About an hour before its second straight game at Staples Center, Houston sent three-time All-Star center Yao Ming back to Houston to have his sore big right toe examined. He is considered day-to-day, but coach Jeff Van Gundy said the injury was "probably a multiple-game thing."
In addition to the loss of Yao, center Dikembe Mutombo left the game with 4:51 left in the game with an dislocated right middle finger that required eight stitches and a visit to the hand specialist on Monday. Despite the thin front court, the Rockets took a 74-70 advantage with under a minute remaining.
"We knew we had our work cut out for us, with Yao out and the rash of injuries we've had," Wesley said. "We just kept this game right where we needed it. We didn't let it get away from us too bad in the first half. We came in down 11 and just found a way. We just got hot in the third quarter and managed to hold on. That's good hard-nosed basketball by us."
Lamar Odom made his only basket of the game with 44 seconds left to cut the deficit to two points and Kwame Brown stole the ball from McGrady - who sat most of the fourth quarter with foul trouble - and went in for an easy fast-break slam to tie it 25 seconds later.
"Throughout the whole game, Kwame wasn't aggressive when I was coming of the pick and roll," McGrady said. "what he was trying to do was to contain me and stop me from turning the corner. Maybe the coaches said something to him during the timeout because he surprised the hell out of me when I came off that pick-and-roll. He attacked the ball immediately. It was a great play, he got the steal, there was nothing I could have done to prevent that.
"But you can't let it get you down. You've got to come back and that's what I did. I wasn't going to drop my head and lay down on my team because I turned the ball over and they tied the game. I let my team down, I had to pick up and win this ball game for us. It was in all in my hands to win that ball game for us. and that was the only thing I had in mind to attack the basket, get something good for us."
McGrady made up for the turnover on the ensuing possession, driving past Devean George and converting the layup in the waning seconds.
On the play, Brown was among the Lakers who did not jump out and confront McGrady. However, George took the blame for the allowing McGrady to get a step on him.
"My fault. I kind of relaxed a bit and I think he saw me relax," George said. "He got a step on me and then he had a clear path to the basket. I think he read me getting out of stance and took off. Next time I will stay in my stance the whole time."
Lakers star Kobe Bryant was disappointed how his team allowed McGrady to drive to the basket, offering no help.
"It's disappointing because you cannot just give up a layup to win the game," he said. "Thirty-five feet from the basket and the guy (McGrady) just dribbles down the lane and just lays the ball up. That just didn't happen. Next time I'll guard him."
Smush Parker's desperation turnaround jumper at the buzzer fell short, sending Los Angeles to its first loss in four games.
"We faltered badly in the second half," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Our offense was stagnant, we started standing around and couldn't get penetration. Our defense got lax, we gave up 3-point shots to shooters. It was a tough situation."
McGrady was especially proud of the come from behind win by his short-handed team.
"At 5-1, I'll take this road trip any day, especially when you don't have Yao, Deke (Mutombo) goes out, Derek Anderson goes out on the road trip," he said. "So we're pretty much shorthanded but for us to come out and get this win is really big. Those guys in the other locker room have been playing extremely great basketball."
McGrady picked up his fourth foul three minutes into the third quarter but still combined with Wesley and rookie Luther Head, who scored 16 points, to score 21 points in a 25-5 run that gave the Rockets a 65-57 advantage entering the final period.
"I didn't get any good looks in the first half," said Wesley, who missed all three of his shots before the break. "Once I got that first good look and it felt good, you start getting hungry. You start looking, you start searching shots, you take more opportunities. I got a couple more good looks and kept knocking it down."
After a slow first quarter in which both teams combined to shoot below 24 percent (8-for-34), Bryant scored eight of his 24 points in the second period to help the Lakers build a 42-31 lead.