DALLAS (AP)—Tracy McGrady’s left big toe was bothering him so much that he took off his shoe during the second quarter and limped to the sideline figuring he was done for the night.
The Dallas Mavericks weren’t that lucky.
Halftime treatment and good news from an X-ray got McGrady back onto the court, and he decided to push himself. The result was a tremendous third quarter that carried the Houston Rockets to a 124-114 victory Wednesday night that ended the Mavs’ six-game winning streak.
“When I went to the bench, I was going to shut it down,” McGrady said. “But at halftime, we put ice on it and more padding in my shoe. It wore off a little bit, but I was still in pain.”
Houston outscored Dallas 37-24 in the third, with McGrady putting up 13 points and eight assists. He added 10 points in the fourth, finishing with 30 points and 11 assists, matching his season high. The Rockets scored their most points of the season for the second straight game while beating the Mavericks for just the second time in 11 tries.
“I was in one of those zones,” said McGrady, who was 6-of-8 on 3-pointers, making all three he tried in the third. “When I saw daylight, I was confident I was going to knock the shot down.”
The Mavericks had won their last six games by at least 14 points, so this was their first tight game since before Christmas—and they didn’t have enough offense to keep up. That’s right, a team that was averaging 114.3 points in its last seven games couldn’t find a consistent scorer, at least not when it mattered most.
Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 28 points, but had an 18-minute scoreless drought over the middle two periods. Michael Finley, coming off a season-best 33 points, missed nine of his first 10 shots. He finished with 14 thanks to three baskets long after the outcome was settled.
The Rockets took advantage with an 11-2 run early in the third quarter to go ahead for good, then closed the period up nine. They shot 70 percent in the period, down from 72 in the first, and finished at an impressive 61 percent.
Dallas’ top defender, Josh Howard, was out with an upper respiratory infection, and swingman Marquis Daniels has been out with an ankle injury. Although Darrell Armstrong went from hardly playing the last few weeks to starting, and there were other changes in the rotation, coach Don Nelson expected a better performance—especially going into a 15-day stretch of nine games against mostly quality foes, starting Friday night in San Antonio.
“I thought our defense let us down a little bit, but I’m not sure that it mattered that much,” Nelson said. “They were making every shot. They had a real good rhythm and flow to their game and we didn’t.”
Houston is suddenly starting to put up the numbers expected from a team led by McGrady.
The Rockets scored 116 in a win over Denver on Sunday night and are averaging 104.9 over the last 13 after putting up just 86.9 in their first 22 games. They are 8-5 since the scoring outburst began. It’s no coincidence that along the way they’ve added David Wesley and Jon Barry.
“We’ve got a lot of shooters on this team,” center Yao Ming said. “That really stretches the defense out. The last two games, we’ve really had great chemistry.”
McGrady was 12-of-19, but the attention he commanded freed Juwan Howard to go 14-of-19 for a season-high 29 points. Wesley scored 21 and Yao 20, half from the foul line.
The Rockets broke things open coming out of an early timeout in the third quarter. The spurt featured a 3-pointer by McGrady, a steal and breakaway layup by Wesley, a dunk by Yao off a sweet drive and dish by McGrady, and a thunderous slam by McGrady off a lob pass from Wesley over three flat-footed Mavs.
Later in the quarter, the Mavs gambled by sending two 7-footers at McGrady behind the 3-point line to force him to give up the ball; he answered by assisting on the next five baskets. He closed the quarter with a 3-pointer that sent Wesley away with a huge smile and Barry skipping back across
Dallas had just four rebounds in the first and third quarters. … Barry and Wesley weren’t with the Rockets last month, when the Mavs beat them by 24. … Dallas’ Darrell Armstrong and Houston’s Wesley started against each other. They began this season as teammates in New Orleans. … Yao is still learning to throw down nasty dunks. He tried an angry one in the second quarter and clanged it off the back rim, making him slap the net even more angrily.