Jazz have failure to launch
HOUSTON - So much for flipping the switch.
Well, unless you count Tracy McGrady.
While the Jazz were hoping to reverse their late-season meltdown in Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoff series with the Houston Rockets, it was McGrady who turned everything around.
Held without a basket the entire first half, the seven-time All-Star found his rhythm in the second - scoring 16 of his 23 points in the third quarter alone to lead the Rockets to an 84-75 comeback victory in front of a sellout crowd of 18,195 fans at Toyota Center on Saturday night.
"He just got hot," the Jazz's Deron Williams said.
Exactly the opposite.
Forward Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz's two leading scorers throughout the regular season, combined to make just 6 of 31
shots - many of them from the outside, away from Houston's 7-foot-6 Yao Ming. The Jazz also shot 35.6 percent as a team, and missed nearly half of their 17 free throws.
"Honestly, I felt like we had the game won," Boozer said. "We let one slip away. They stole one from us out there."
Yao led the Rockets with 28 points and 13 rebounds, and he kept the Rockets alive in the first half when the Jazz were building a nine-point lead with the help of McGrady's errant shooting touch.
"We were discombobulated," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
But once the second half began, the Rockets hardly needed Yao.
McGrady made his first basket within the first minute of the third quarter, and quickly caught fire. He quickly drove the basket for a layup, fed Yao for one of his seven assists, and later buried long jumper after long jumper over bewildered Jazz defenders as the crowd grew more and more ravenous.
"He's a great player, and we knew that he was going to get hot," the Jazz's Gordan Giricek said. "And once he got hot, he was really hard to stop."
McGrady scored 10 of his points in the final 3:42 of the period, helping turn a five-point deficit into a six-point lead that the Rockets never gave away.
"I told myself at halftime to calm down," McGrady said. "I had to take a couple of deep breaths and gather myself together because I was on a high.
"Even before the game, coming to the arena, I'm sitting in the car and my palms were sweating," he added, "and I just calmed myself down in the second half. Coming out for the third quarter, I was . . . just more relaxed on my offense on my jumpers."
The Jazz, on the other hand, simply seemed to get tighter and tighter.
In their first playoff game in four years, with seven players on the roster who had never before taken the court in the postseason, they missed their first seven shots but regained their composure to take control of the game.
Yet while McGrady erupted, they scored just 11 points in the third quarter - the momentum slipped away for good when guard Derek Fisher missed a fast-break layup, allowing the Rockets to score a fast-break dunk at the other end that gave them the lead - and 13 in the first 10 minutes of the fourth.
Boozer and Okur scored just two points in the final period, and starter Andrei Kirilenko scored only two points all night.
"We played a good game for the most part, but didn't hit shots down the stretch," Williams said. "They made a nice run and we seemed to hang our heads a little bit. . . . We can play a lot better and we know we can beat them."