To the point of near nausea this season, Tracy McGrady has uttered the phrase after Houston wins that he "wanted to impose [his] will on the game."
If he said the same after Houston's 120-117 win over the Phoenix Suns Monday night, no one would doubt he was telling the straight truth.
McGrady scored 39 points, grabbed 11 boards, dished 9 assists and consistently attacked the basket in leading the Rockets to victory and securing homecourt advantage against the Utah Jazz in the first round.
The Rockets haven't had homecourt advantage in a playoff series since squaring off against Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle Supersonics in the semifinals in 1997. They also haven't won this many games (52) since that season.
However, all the credit can't go to T-Mac for sealing the deal. While he was throwing the hard rights, Yao Ming was packing a powerful left.
Yao hit 14-20 shots for 34 points and 9 boards. That's right -- 73 points on 54.9% shooting combined for the Rockets star pair. That the Rockets have not one but two superstars that are capable of raising their game to another level makes them a scary draw for just about any team in the league not from Arizona.
As testament to that, even with the one-two punch of Yao and T-Mac, the Rockets didn't have much of a chance to keep up with the loaded Suns (a team the Rockets defense seems to have little answer for) without another weapon, and that was Shane Battier this night. Battier hit 5-6 from long range and finished with 17 points and 3 steals.
Not in a million years would I have said the Rockets were capable of 120 points and beating the Phoenix Suns while Rafer Alston had a "Rafer Night", but they did it just the same. Rafer's 9 assists to just 2 turnovers were nice, but coming off his brilliant performance against the Hornets (21 points on 5-10 from long range, 13 assists), this was a vintage shooting clunker. Rafer's 3-12 shooting (1-6 from long range) was a subtle reminder of where playoff opponents will shoot the arrow to strike down Achilles.
But now is not a time for negatives (such as Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion having field days or the near collapse late) ... the Rockets won a big game against a top West opponent, they sealed homecourt advantage in the first round and their stars are playing at a high level heading in to the postseason.
Not to mention we get to rub it in Utah's face by tossing them a 48-minute Vassilis Spanoulis lovefest in the meaningless regular season finale.