EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—Irate at the way his team started the game, Jeff Van Gundy stood cross-armed near the Houston bench and didn’t move a muscle.
The game was less than four minutes old, three fouls had been called on Maurice Taylor, the Rockets were shooting 0-for-8 and trailing 11-0—and not a twitch from Van Gundy.
The coach left Taylor in the game, and he scored Houston’s first six points to snap the early drought before the Rockets went on to defeat the New Jersey Nets 80-69 Monday night.
“It was a risk on his part, and it paid off,” said Taylor, who didn’t pick up his fourth foul until three minutes into the third quarter. By then, the Rockets were ahead by 20.
The move was an unconventional one by Van Gundy, who said he could only recall one other instance in his NBA career—coaching the Knicks against Indiana in a playoff game—when he left a player in after picking up three early fouls.
Yao was in foul trouble most of the night and scored just six points. McGrady had 14, while Jim Jackson scored a season-high 18 and Taylor added 12.
Houston snapped a two-game losing streak and sent the offensively inept Nets to their third straight defeat. New Jersey shot just 23-for-75.
“At the end of the day when you shoot 30 percent and have 21 turnovers, it’s hard to win no matter how hard they play,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said.
Taylor’s third foul came just 3:34 into the first quarter before he made three consecutive wide-open jumpers.
“That was not the key to that game,” said Richard Jefferson, who had seven of the Nets’ turnovers. “Congratulations for scoring six straight points. That was a good move by (Van Gundy), but that was not the key to them winning that game.”
Jackson closed the first quarter with a 3-pointer for 20-17 edge, giving Houston the lead for good, and Juwan Howard scored on a jump hook to close a 16-0 run that made it 30-17. Dikembe Mutombo blocked Alonzo Mourning’s shots twice on one second-quarter possession, helping the Rockets hold New Jersey to 11-for-41 shooting in the first half.
McGrady blocked a shot by Jefferson early in the third quarter and then converted a three-point play to give Houston its first 20-point lead, 50-30.
New Jersey pulled within 10 on a foul shot by Jacque Vaughn with 5:46 remaining, but Houston scored the next five points to end the threat.
The Rockets weren’t all that much better than the Nets offensively and were outrebounded 53-34, but they were able to hold Mourning to 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting and forced every Nets starter to shoot well under 50 percent.
Jefferson led New Jersey with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Brandon Armstrong, who spent the past three seasons with the Nets before being cut by Golden State in training camp, was set to re-sign with New Jersey but failed his physical. The Nets are seeking backcourt help because Ron Mercer is out six to eight weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery. … Bostjan Nachbar, who started Houston’s previous two games in place of McGrady, did not play. … Nets forward Awvee Storey made his first NBA shot, a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left.