Jazz finish off Rockets despite McGrady's 40
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Sorry, your version of Flash doesn't support this video. Please download the latest version at adobe.com. You'll be glad you did.STATS & MORE
ROCKETS vs. JAZZ
Utah wins series 4-2
ROCKETS: SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
SALT LAKE CITY — The Rockets finally ran out of comebacks.
Resilience, it turned out, could take them only so far and for only so long.
The limit was the playoffs first round. Again.
After one last rally by the Rockets, the Utah Jazz pulled away to take a 113-91 win Friday in EnergySolutions Arena to take their Western Conference first-round series and end an 11th-consecutive Rockets season before the second round.
A season of spectacular highs and devastating lows, of the streak and the Yao Ming stress fracture, ended the way each of the previous 10 had when the Jazz blew the game open beyond the Rockets' ability to take a hit and get back up.
"I thought we never had a bunch of guys who played harder, even the championship teams," Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. "They never played harder than these guys. Unfortunately we had no point guard in the second half (Rafer Alston went out with a sprained right ankle), and we (did not) have our center in the series. I don't want to cry, but I'm crying."
Tracy McGrady had a series-high 40 points with 10 rebounds and five assists, scoring more points against the Jazz than anyone has in a playoff game since Michael Jordan's 45 in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals.
On Friday, McGrady and Luis Scola, who had 15 points with nine rebounds, were the only Rockets to score in double figures. The rest of the Rockets made just 10 of 39 shots.
"It's tough, it's really tough any time you have a lot of confidence in your teammates and your team and have chances," said McGrady, winless in seven career playoff series. "It's a hell of a ballclub over there. But I thought we did some great things to put ourselves in a great situation and to try to make this a series."
The Rockets cleared the bench with three minutes left and the Jazz leading 108-85. But the game and series had been decided as soon as the second half began.
After squandering all but the last point of a 19-point first half lead, the Jazz pounced again with all the ferocity as they had to begin the game, and this time, the Rockets could not get back up. The Jazz outscored the Rockets 23-5 to begin the second half, hitting the jumpers the Rockets no longer could.
The Rockets began the second half making two of 17 shots and made just four of 22 in the third quarter.
McGrady had scored 28 points in the first half to drag the Rockets back from a 19-point deficit to within one. He had overwhelmed Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko and Kyle Korver. But for all the defenders the Jazz threw at him, they generally came one at a time.
In the third quarter, the Jazz sent swarms at McGrady on the perimeter and in his path in the lane, often ignoring the Rockets' point guards, Bobby Jackson and Aaron Brooks with Alston out with a sprained right ankle. Jackson and Brooks combined to make one of 10 shots in the third quarter. McGrady took just four shots, missing all four, with each coming on the perimeter.
"I thought we did a hell of a job of fighting back, despite being down 20-something," McGrady said. "We came in at halftime and finally realized Rafer wasn't coming back in the second half. Things changed. We're a different ballclub when he's not in our lineup."
When McGrady scored his first point of the second half with 10:49 left, the Jazz had built their lead to 24, and the Rockets had little left. He would score 12 in the fourth quarter but could carry the Rockets no further.
"Our guys responded," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We made it a game at halftime, thanks to Tracy who was just unbelievable. But then they took control. You got to give them credit. Their better players stepped up. They had the kind of game we had at home in the last one. We just ran out of gas. We couldn't make another run."
In the first half, with the game and season rapidly slipping away, McGrady took the game over to carry the Rockets back.
McGrady scored 15 points in the last seven minutes of the half. He hit a jumper to stop the Jazz run, then after an Alston drive and Mutombo to a three-point play, McGrady scored the Rockets' next 13 points, finishing that run with a sensational reverse.
After spending the season, the series and the night defying odds and clawing their way back, they seemed to finally have nothing left.
"I'm proud of the way we fought back," Rockets forward Shane Battier said. "Could have easily been over before halftime. It didn't seem like we had that one push left.
"It's unfortunate we couldn't put a little more pressure on the Jazz and get to the second round. But this should (not) diminish the entire team we had this season."
If anything, even in defeat, Game 6 demonstrated something about the Rockets again. But having had to call upon their fortitude to rally back one more time, this time it was not enough.