Given the playoff history of one Tracy McGrady, there was no way it could continue for too long.
T-Mac shook off a painfully rusty first half to score 22 in the second, helping lead the Rockets to an 84-75 home win over the Jazz and take a 1-0 lead in their first round best-of-seven.
Despite the comeback, there was definitely some anxiety in the Houston arena Saturday as the Rockets trailed by 9 at intermission and T-Mac's digits were singular: 1 point on 0-6 shooting, looking very much like a player who had never seen the postseason before.
But major props to the player who is not getting enough recognition for the win, and that's Yao Ming. It wasn't his best shooting performance (8-18), but he hit 12-14 from the line, finished with 28 points and 13 boards and single-handedly kept the Rockets from coughing up homecourt advantage by the halftime buzzer alone.
Rafer Alston had another of his classic shooting nights (3-11 from the floor, 3-10 from three-point range), but he played Ironman minutes (47) and finished with 11 boards and 8 assists. Shane Battier (2-7) and Luther Head (2-8) both also labored shooting the ball.
So all in all, I thought the Rockets were very fortunate that the Jazz didn't steal one. Houston did play good defense at times, but the Jazz missed more than their fair share of open shots. Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur shot a combined 6-31 from the field.
When the Rockets did get back in the game late in the third, there were some classic plays that really swung the momentum their way:
Fisher Butchers Bunny
With a minute or two left in the third quarter, the Rockets were clawing back in to the game but couldn't get over the hump. A bad pass led to Jazz guard Derek Fisher leading a 3-on-nobody fast break, and he inexplicably botched the layup. Okur and Boozer couldn't handle the follow-up. Skip got the loose ball and made a beautiful pass the length of the floor to Yao Ming, who was snowbirding. The solo slam was much more than a 4-point swing. It gave the Rockets the lead and got the fans in to a huge uproar.
"That was huge," said Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan. "It looked like our energy level had dropped."
T-Mac Punks Giricek
T-Mac had just hit a long jumper with under a minute to go in the third to give the Rockets a 3-point edge, and after a Jazz miss, T-Mac milked the clock down to 10-12 seconds and threw up a straight-in-your-eye 27-foot bomb in the face of Gordan Giricek that dropped. The camera panned to Yao on the bench who had this "That is the sickest man alive" look on his face. Dikembe Mutombo viciously rejected a Jarron Collins layup attempt a few seconds later than kept the fan frenzy going.
Head Stumbles, Bumbles, Rips Three
After Rafer had hit a triple to put the Rockets up 5 midway through the fourth, Luther Head lost control of the ball with just seconds left on the shot clock. He somehow gathered the ball, faked his man up and drained a triple that gave the Rockets a 71-63 lead. (Unfortunately these were about the only shooting highlights of the night for Rafer and Luther)
The first half was painful, but it was definitely enjoyable to see the Rockets come together late and make some big plays in key moments. Plus the whole fourth quarter where UFC-wannabe Matt Harpring was in full roid-rage meltdown.
Nonetheless, the Rockets are likely going to have to do much better to beat the Jazz in Game 2 -- especially from long range (9-27 from downtown). Okur and Boozer shoot in the 46% - 56% range usually, so it's not likely we will see them combine to go 19.3% from the floor again.
On the flip side, the Jazz may have just lost their big opportunity.