McGrady's 47-point outburst helps Rockets blast by JazzNov 2, 2007 - 6:16 AM By Chris Bellamy PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- No matter what the Utah Jazz did, Tracy McGrady was always there to do them one better.
Despite a practical no-show from All-Star center Yao Ming, McGrady scored 47 points as the Houston Rockets spoiled the Jazz's home opener, defeating their first-round playoff foes from a season ago, 106-95, on Thursday.
Since becoming a Rocket in the summer of 2004 in a trade with the Orlando Magic, the first-round pick of the Toronto Raptors in 1997 has become synonymous with regular-season success and first-round exits from the playoffs. Despite leading his team to the playoffs on six different occasions, McGrady's teams have yet to advance past the first round.
"It doesn't really mean anything; it's the second game of the season," said McGrady of Thursday's win. "Yeah, they beat us in the playoffs last year, but I don't hold a grudge. Great ballclub. The best team won."
McGrady, who averaged 25.3 points per game against the Jazz in Houston's seven-game series last season, had eclipsed that mark by halftime though, scoring 26 on his way to besting his previous career high of 44 points against Utah.
"I haven't won in here in so long, I just wanted to assert myself right away," McGrady said. "I got off to a good start. The team didn't really get off to a great start, but our bench came in and did a great job of getting us back into the ballgame. From that point on, it's just getting stops and executing on the offensive end."
The 6-8 forward finished the game 17-of-27 from the field and 11-of-14 from the field en route to his highest point total since he scored 48 against the Dallas Mavericks on December 2, 2004.
McGrady's memorable night offset the job that Utah did on the other half of Houston's dynamic duo, Yao, who was held to just 11 points and committed six turnovers.
Mehmet Okur's 20-footer with 4:06 on the clock pulled the Jazz to within 92-87 after the Rockets had held a second-half lead as large as 14 points. Okur, who did not score a bucket in Utah's first game due to early foul trouble, rebounded with a solid offensive showing, contributing 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Yao answered with a baby hook on the other end to make it 92-85 and the two clubs traded baskets including a 3-pointer by McGrady to retain a manageable lead down the stretch.
"This is a hostile environment," McGrady said. "These fans are heckling the heck out of me out there, and I'm just out there having fun with them. They're extremely loud. I just wanted to quiet the crowd down a little bit. My shot was falling, everything was working for me tonight."
McGrady's two foul shots with just under three minutes to play and Yao's subsequent lay-in restored the Rockets' 10-point lead at 99-89.
"Obviously, we have really struggled here in Salt Lake City," Yao said. "This year, we come back and it's like Game Eight for us. We wanted to get this win to start off a new season."
Off the bat, it looked like a repeat of the last four games of the first-round playoff series all over again. The Utah frontcourt of Carlos Boozer, Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap collapsed on Yao, forcing the ball out of the All-Star center's hands and getting him into early foul trouble, leaving the 7-6 center with just three first-half points.
"The second half, he finally relaxed," said Houston coach Rick Adelman regarding Yao. "He got into foul trouble and that hurt him, but he stayed with it and made some big plays for us."
Even when McGrady wasn't doing the scoring for Houston, the Rockets kept the Jazz at bay. After Utah pulled within two early in the third quarter, Houston guard Rafer Alston answered with a 3-pointer and added another long jumper just moments later to increase the lead to seven.
The Rockets forced the Jazz into 20 turnovers, including five apiece from Boozer and Okur. After Utah exploded offensively in the first few minutes of play, Houston tightened up its defense in the paint and much like the Jazz did to Yao in the playoffs repeatedly stripped the Utah big men of the ball.
"They were a lot tougher defensively," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "They pushed us out on the floor. We got some baskets early. It looked like it was going to be easy. Then, they tightened down a little bit and they started (making things more difficult)."
The Jazz, who opened their season with a 117-96 road win over Golden State Tuesday night, could not muster quite as much firepower in their home opener. Though both Boozer (30 points, 16 rebounds) and guard Deron Williams (18 points, 13 assists) both registered double-doubles, the offense sputtered throughout much of the game and got little from the team's usually reliable bench.
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