Houston 85, Memphis 76
November 26, 2006 7:20pm CST
Tracy McGrady tied his career high in assists on Saturday night, then lamented the one that got away. McGrady had 13 assists for the fifth time in his career and scored 19 points to lead the Houston Rockets to an 85-76 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Most of McGrady's passes -- including a nifty, behind-the-back crowd-pleaser -- went to Yao Ming, who scored 28 points. But after the game, McGrady was dishing out good-natured jabs at Chuck Hayes, who blew a wide-open layup after McGrady found him late in the first quarter. "We're not going to talk about Chuck Hayes," McGrady said in the locker room, within earshot of a smiling Hayes. "Did I say that? I didn't mean to say his name. He's guaranteed to give us one miss off a great pass every game." Hayes avoided eye contact with McGrady after the miss. "I knew it was coming to me," Hayes said. "Hey, the ball didn't bounce my way. Right after it rolled out, I knew I was going to hear it from him." Hayes redeemed himself in the fourth quarter, when McGrady hit him for a basket underneath. McGrady is averaging six assists per game and embraced the role of distributor. He's averaging only 19 points -- six below his career average. But McGrady might be happier letting others do the scoring for a change. "It's fun to see your teammates want the ball on the other side," McGrady said. "I take a lot of pride and passion in doing that. I'm trying to make these guys better." The Rockets have won four of five and eight of their last 10 games. They improved to 4-1 at the Toyota Center and 3-2 against the Southwest Division, after going 1-15 against divisional foes last season. "Any time you're winning and you're making plays like that, it's fun," McGrady said. Hakim Warrick scored 12 and Rudy Gay and Chucky Atkins added 11 points apiece for the Grizzlies, who fell to 0-7 on the road. Memphis had shot 32 percent in its first six road games and went 26-for-69 from the field (38 percent) in Houston. The Rockets outrebounded the Grizzlies 44-43, the 10th time in 13 games Houston has won the battle of the boards. Houston had been outscored in the final quarter in four of its first five home games, but stayed comfortably ahead this time after building a 65-54 lead after three. Luther Head hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth and McGrady drove for a two-handed, highlight-reel dunk with 7:07 left to put the Rockets up 77-65. McGrady equaled his career high for assists on a pass to Yao for an easy bank shot with 4:44 remaining that put Houston up 81-68. "I don't question my big man's hands at all," McGrady said. "He has great hands -- sometimes." Houston built an 11-point lead in the first quarter, then sputtered on offense for most of the second. Memphis took a 30-28 lead with a 12-4 run, highlighted by two athletic baskets by Gay. The rookie, whom the Rockets drafted and traded to Memphis for Shane Battier, drove for a one-handed dunk and a layup to tie the game and Mike Miller scored on a drive to finish the spurt. The Rockets missed 15 of their first 17 shots of the second quarter with four turnovers. They trailed 38-32 when Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy angrily called a timeout and McGrady slammed the ball on the court. "A lack of efficient basketball built into a frustrating moment for the group," Van Gundy said with a wry smile. McGrady's driving layup with 1:07 left in the half ended a 4-minute field-goal drought. Steve Novak swished a 3-pointer from the corner with 35 seconds left to cut Memphis' lead to 38-37. The Rockets were back in rhythm in the third quarter, opening with a 22-10 burst. Yao had two layups and two dunks, the second following the behind-the-back assist from McGrady. Battier's 3-pointer with 5:18 left in the quarter -- off another McGrady assist -- gave the Rockets a 59-49 lead. "His vision, his unselfishness, are very good," Van Gundy said of McGrady. Houston hit 12 of 21 shots in the third quarter. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, mustered only 15 points in the quarter. "We let the game get away from us," Memphis coach Mike Fratello said. "We had a very good first half, but in the second half, we weren't the same team. We got away from what we had been doing well."