SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Utah tried just about everything to stop Houston’s Tracy McGrady.
From switching defenders to changing defenses, nothing came even close to working in the Rockets’ 99-85 win Monday night. McGrady scored 44 points, hitting shot after shot through the first three quarters and nearly buried the Jazz by himself.
Some of McGrady’s shots were wide-open looks, but others he had to shoot over a hand in his face and the result was almost always the same.
“It just comes with being really confident. No matter what type of defense you throw, how many guys you put on me, if my jumper is falling, you know there’s really nothing you can do,” said McGrady, who also had five steals. “It was great defense on their part. But it was just better offense.”
By the time McGrady started missing in the fourth quarter, Houston was already comfortably ahead with a 12-point lead. McGrady made 14 of his first 17 shots and finished 15-for-21.
Houston, which lost at San Antonio 83-70 the night before, improved to 2-1 on a four-game road trip and won for just the second time in the last 17 meetings at Utah.
“We’re going for bigger things. Those guys are playing for pride. They know they’re not making the playoffs. They’re a well coached team. They do a great job of executing,” McGrady said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture.”
Mike James scored 14 of his 16 in the second half, Yao Ming finished with 15 points and David Wesley scored 11 for Houston. The Rockets had to survive a couple of scares from the Jazz in the third quarter before running away with it.
“We take time and possessions off trying to take shortcuts,” coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “Then we got back to trying to do what we needed to do to win.”
McGrady remained in until the end of the game, but couldn’t reach his season-high of 48 points. He didn’t need to.
Houston is 19-2 when McGrady scores 30 or more. He had that by halftime after scoring the last 11 points of first half. Houston led by 15 in the early quarter before having to hold off a couple of surges by the Jazz.
Utah got back into the game with an 8-0 run early in the third, capped by Okur’s steal and short jumper that brought the Jazz within 66-58. McGrady hit a 19-footer, then Utah scored the next eight points again, including an odd sequence with 3:24 left.
Kirk Snyder, who scored 12 points, ended up with a loose ball that three other players couldn’t hang on to. Instead of kicking it back out, Snyder dribbled around and spun his way through the defense for a layup while being fouled.
Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy was livid Snyder was awarded the basket. It didn’t help when the Jazz rookie did a little taunting in front of the bench. Van Gundy got a technical, which led to a free throw by Okur.
Snyder hit his free throw to complete the three-point play that cut Houston’s margin to 68-66. Utah coach Jerry Sloan immediately took Snyder out of the game and had a chat with him.
“He makes a terrific move then he goes and stands in front of their bench,” Sloan said. “That’s a no-no in this league. We’re lucky that something crazy didn’t happen because those are the kinds of things that can turn into something serious.”
It seemed to revive the Rockets. Dikembe Mutombo and James each hit a free throw to start an 8-2 run that put Houston up 76-68 at the end of the third quarter.
A well-known Jazz fan with season tickets behind the east basket, where he heckles opponents with a rubber chicken and other items as they shoot free throws, was ejected late in the third quarter. He received a standing ovation and several high-fives on his way up the stairs. … Sloan turned 63 Monday. … Houston’s road trip wraps up Wednesday in Portland.