HOUSTON (AP)—Tracy McGrady didn’t want it to come to this.
He’s only got one more chance to silence his critics.
The Rockets and Jazz will decide their first-round series in the first Game 7 of the playoffs on Saturday night.
McGrady, a seven-time All-Star who’s 0-5 in playoff series, oddly downplayed how much this one means to him after Utah’s 94-82 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night.
“I’ve been in other Game 7s, why would this be the biggest?” he said. “I’m sure this won’t be the last Game 7 of my career. I don’t think this is the biggest.”
He and the Rockets had plenty of opportunities to avoid it altogether.
They trailed 75-74 in the fourth quarter of Game 6, then failed to get the go-ahead score on four straight possessions. McGrady missed a 3-pointer on one, then coughed up consecutive turnovers on the last two.
“It was right there, man. One point,” McGrady said. “We put ourselves in a great position to pull this game out, but you know, things went the other direction.”
McGrady managed to smile after the game, knowing that they’re done playing in Utah.
The Rockets flew past the Jazz in the standings late in the season to steal away home-court advantage in the series and that’s proven pivotal—the home team has won all six games.
That also gives the Rockets a historical edge on Saturday night.
The home team has won 78 of the 96 all-time Game 7s. The Rockets are 3-0 all-time in Game 7s played in Houston, though this will be the first one ever played in the 4-year-old Toyota Center.
“I think both teams are really comfortable at home,” McGrady said. “It seems like our guys shoot the ball real well back home.”
Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said home-court won’t matter if the Rockets keep up their carelessness. They had 19 turnovers in Game 6 and a total of 69 in the last four games—and the Jazz have won three of them.
“It’s on us to be more efficient with the ball,” Van Gundy said. “We should concentrate on what we can control. And if we do that, we’ll be in position to win.”
McGrady had five turnovers on Thursday night, but the loss wasn’t all on him. Yao Ming, Houston’s leading scorer, had eight turnovers, ranging from three-second violations and illegal screens to steals by the Jazz when he tried to dribble.
Yao has averaged 24.5 points, but almost five turnovers in the series. He had zero turnovers in Houston’s 98-90 win in Game 2, but has 25 in the four games since.
“It’s disappointing that he’s making the same mistakes,” Van Gundy said. “He’s proven before that he can play efficient basketball and not turn it over. He’s just not done it in this series, other than that one game.”
The Rockets won Game 5 because they outrebounded Utah and McGrady had as many assists as Houston had turnovers (16).
The Jazz won their three home games in the series by double digits, but they’ve broken down at critical times to lose three close games in Houston. They trailed Game 5 by one point with a minute left, then missed four straight shots to lose 96-92.
“I think in the games that we’ve played in Houston, we’ve played well enough to win, we just didn’t win,” said forward Carlos Boozer. “We take that confidence with us.”
A victory on Saturday would propel the Jazz to the second round for the first time since 2000. It would also snap their long postseason drought away from Salt Lake City—Utah has dropped six consecutive road playoff games and 17 of its last 18.
“We definitely had our chances to win there the first three times that we played there,” said Jazz forward Matt Harpring. “So our team feels like we can win there. That’s the good thing.
“Now, we’ve got to go out and do it and prove that we can do it,” he said. “The final scoreboard has got to read Utah Jazz on top.”
Golden State is awaiting Saturday’s winner after finishing off top-seeded Dallas on Thursday night. The free-wheeling Warriors have become the talk of the playoffs, but Van Gundy has been too preoccupied with his series to notice.
“If you were in a knife fight in an alley somewhere, you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Hey, if I get by this guy, I’ll kick that next guy’s (butt),” he said. “We’re in a knife fight right now with knife fighters. We’re just trying to win this skirmish right now.”