PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; tied 3-3.
Houston, trying to get past the first round for the first time in eight years, hopes to build on its best quarter of the series when it faces the Mavericks in Game 7 at the American Airlines Center.
Each game in this series has been decided in the fourth quarter, including Houston’s 101-83 victory in Game 6. While the final score doesn’t indicate it, the Mavericks were close to ending this series and advancing to face top-seeded Phoenix in the conference semifinals.
Jerry Stackhouse’s follow shot with 7:19 remaining drew Dallas within 82-80, but Houston outscored the Mavericks 19-3 the rest of the game and held them without a field goal.
Tracy McGrady scored eight straight points, including two 3-pointers, during the fourth-quarter run and finished with 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He also got plenty of help from Jon Barry, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, and Mike James, who added 22 points off the bench.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” McGrady said. “I’m going to lay everything out on the line, leave everything out there on that basketball court, and I’m going to bring my teammates with me.”
Dallas was outscored 32-13 in the fourth quarter, shooting 14.8 percent (4-for-27) from the field.
“We got cold and didn’t execute,” Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki said. “The fourth quarter was what got us a 3-2 lead, and we just didn’t have it in this one.”
Now Houston will try to win Game 7 on the road, a rarity in the NBA. Since 1947, 88 playoff series have reached a Game 7 and the home team has won 72 times, an 81.8 winning percentage.
The Mavericks are 2-1 all-time in Game 7s, beating Portland and Sacramento at home in 2003 and losing to the Lakers in 1988.
The Rockets, 5-1 in Game 7s, can take solace in the fact that two road teams have won Game 7 in this decade. The New York Knicks, led by current Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, against Miami in 2000, and the Lakers at Sacramento in 2002.
Being at home might not matter much if the Mavericks don’t get a better performance from Nowitzki, who was limited to 19 points on 5-for-22 from the field in Game 6. He is shooting 35.1 percent (40-for-114) in this series.
“I’ve got to figure a way to shoot the ball better if we want to win Game 7,” Nowitzki said.
Nowitzki has performed well in two Game 7 appearances, averaging 30.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in wins over Portland and Sacramento.
McGrady, who has never advanced past the first round in his eight-year career, has appeared in one Game 7, a 108-93 loss to Detroit in 2003 when he was with Orlando. He shot 7-for-24 and scored 21 points in that loss after averaging 33 points in the first six games of the series.
The most encouraging sign for the Rockets in Game 6 was their ability to win without a big contribution from Yao Ming, who had his worst game of the series with eight points and five rebounds. Yao sat out the entire fourth quarter, but Dikembe Mutombo more than made up for Yao’s performance by contributing 10 rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes.
“I had a good night’s sleep last night, and when I came here, I just felt we were going to win,” Mutombo said. “I’m not ready to go home.”
Following the loss, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson clearly wasn’t pleased with all the attention focused on Van Gundy’s remarks earlier in the series where he said the officials were paying special attention to Yao. Van Gundy’s comments resulted in a $100,000 fine—the largest ever assessed against a coach.
“Maybe I need to go crazy. Maybe I should go crazy. Maybe that will help,” Johnson said. “We lost the game. We don’t make excuses.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Rockets - 5th seed. Mavericks - 4th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - McGrady, 31.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 6.7 apg. Mavericks - Nowitzki, 22.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg; Terry, 4.5 apg.