for this game

Yao, McGrady power Rockets past Sonics

Jan 21, 2008 - 11:47 PM By Gene Duffey PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

HOUSTON (Ticker) - Yao Ming played his usual starring role Monday afternoon, but this time it was partner Tracy McGrady giving the Houston Rockets a boost off the bench against the Seattle SuperSonics.

Yao led the way with 30 points and 17 rebounds, but McGrady sparked a late third-quarter run that helped the Rockets pull away from the SuperSonics for a 96-89 victory.

McGrady has not started the last two games since returning from the bone bruise and tendinitis in his left knee that forced him to miss 12 games. He added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Sonics.

"We told him he'd be the sixth man the rest of the season," teammate Rafer Alston said of McGrady.

That may not be completely untrue.

"That's my new job," McGrady said, estimating he is about 75 percent healthy. "You've got to approach the game in a different way. The speed of the game is already going on, the guys got their legs and their rhythm. I'm coming off the bench and I'm struggling with one leg anyway, trying to keep up with these guys.

"Today (the knee) was really bad. Not only was I tight, I had pain in my knee. It's going to be that way because I can't rest and let it heal all the way up. It's something I'm going to have to tolerate. It's good to see I played so many minutes tonight. I was able to stay out there when I was really tired. During the game, I kind of forgot about it. But at times I can't help it. Certain movements are restricted. I have to deal with it."

The truth was, coach Rick Adelman subbed for McGrady with 6:42 left in the game and Houston ahead by eight, but the Sonics shot their way back into it.

"I told him I needed a blow," McGrady said. "We were up."

McGrady returned to the game a little over two minutes later to help put away Seattle with five points and a blocked shot in the closing minutes.

"We're giving up a lot of shots in transition," Alston said of Seattle's comeback. "We're not ready (defensively). We've got to be ready for what's to come."

The Rockets, who have played 14 games this year without McGrady, may not have won this game if he wasn't available.

"Without Tracy McGrady, it takes a huge part of your game away," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "They can take Yao out with the double team. But Tracy can spread the court. We have to see how far (in minutes) we can go with Tracy."

"I felt that's what my team was missing without me, being able to create shots for guys," McGrady said. "Being able to get to the bucket. If I don't make the shot, I still bring attention to myself, let Yao and those guys get the offensive rebounds. I just wanted to assert myself in the fourth quarter.

"This is a game we had to win, especially with us playing so well Saturday against San Antonio."

McGrady could not say when he would return to the starting lineup.

"He's getting there," Alston said. "When he's first getting into the game it might take him a little bit to get his legs warm. I noticed tonight he got a little stronger down the stretch."

Seattle, playing its fourth in a row on the road, lost it 11th straight contest.

Jeff Green looked more like a Rookie of the Year candidate for the Sonics than Kevin Durant, scoring 15 points with several spectacular athletic plays. Wally Szczerbiak added 15 for Seattle while Durant managed only 12 on 4-for-13 shooting.

"Jeff was very encouraging with his play," Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "He ran the floor well and went to the basket very aggressively. I liked (Durant's) shot selection, but it is hard for him when he gets inside with the bigger bodies. He's learning."

"I had the open lane to get to the basket and I took it," Green said.

McGrady's jumper from the foul line early in the fourth quarter gave Houston an 81-68 lead. Similar to last Tuesday's home loss to Philadelphia, the Rockets let their opponent back in the game.

The Sonics got as close as 85-81 midway through the fourth on Kurt Thomas' basket but would not get any closer.

"It was a frustrating game to watch," Adelman said. "You don't relax. We're up seven and give up a wide open 3-pointer to Szczerbiak. You can't continue to do that. That's disturbing. You can't continue to make the same mistakes over and over again."

Thomas and Nick Collison, a pair of natural forwards, shared the duty of guarding Yao most of the game.

"The only one that compares with Yao is (Shaquille O'Neal)," Thomas said. "He has such great touch and shooting ability. He is a great free-throw shooter and almost automatic."

Houston finished the first half of the season 22-19.

"We're going to have to go on a (heck) of a run," McGrady said. "We're capable of doing it."