Sidelined since Nov. 18 with a back injury, McGrady returned Tuesday night to score 25 points and the Rockets snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Houston lost all eight games McGrady missed after he strained his back in practice on Nov. 4.
As late as Tuesday morning, McGrady wasn’t sure if he felt good enough to come back against the Hawks. He decided a few hours before the game that he could.
“You should have seen me when I put on my uniform,” McGrady said. “I felt like a kid all over again.”
McGrady stretched his back and lifted weights after the game. He said he would know Wednesday morning if he was finally over the back spasms that have plagued him since he played for Orlando.
“The pounding and getting up and down the court, I’m really curious to see how my body is going to respond to that,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll wake up not sore. Hopefully, working out will help that out a little bit.”
Houston averaged only 83 points in the games McGrady missed. The Rockets matched that Tuesday night on McGrady’s best highlight, an acrobatic reverse layup that gave the Rockets an 83-68 lead with 8:33 left.
McGrady’s presence created openings all night for the rest of the Rockets, who came in averaging a league-low 85 points.
McGrady finished 7-of-16 from the field. He went 11-of-12 from the free throw line and also had nine rebounds, five assists and eight turnovers.
With the Hawks keying on McGrady on the perimeter, Yao was able to manhandle Atlanta’s big men down low. McGrady’s prettiest pass of the night went inside to Yao for a layup in the final minute.
“Everybody knows he’s a super scorer,” Yao said. “Also, he’s a great passer. He had some turnovers tonight, but in a few games, those turnovers will turn into assists.”
Atlanta expected McGrady to play, but still couldn’t stop him.
“He makes a big difference,” Johnson said. “He’s their go-to guy and he made some key plays that definitely hurt us.”
McGrady started fast, making a jumper from the free throw line 18 seconds into the game. He added a jumper from the wing, two free throws and a fadeaway from the baseline as the Rockets built a 13-5 lead.
“I came out in the first couple of minutes pretty aggressively,” he said. “The only thing I was really mad about were the turnovers. That just comes with fatigue and I got fatigued pretty quickly.”
The Hawks missed nine of their first 11 shots, but then hit four of their next five to close the early gap.
McGrady had 17 points at the half in just over 15 minutes. He started the third quarter and helped the Rockets turn a 52-51 halftime lead to a 64-55 edge before going to the bench for a rest.
The Hawks rallied with McGrady out, tying the game at 65 on Marvin Williams’ basket from the wing with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
McGrady returned and the Rockets spurted to a 74-66 lead heading to the fourth. The Rockets opened the fourth with a 9-2 burst, capped by McGrady’s fancy layup. Posting up Johnson, McGrady made a quick spin to the baseline, then ducked under Zaza Pachulia for the lay-in.
McGrady intercepted a pass in the final minute, then fed Yao for a layup with 40 seconds left. Head replaced McGrady after the play and the sparse crowd gave McGrady a standing ovation as he walked to the bench.
McGrady said he’s still playing in pain and will have to endure it the rest of the season.
“It’s going to be like that,” he said. “I’m not going to be 100 percent, regardless of what I do or how much rest I get. I’m going to feel a little bit of pain, I’m going to be stiff at times.
“But it was a no-brainer, when I came in here today, I was going to play.”
The Hawks have lost seven in a row in Houston. … Hawks guard Tyronn Lue, a former Rocket and Atlanta’s leading 3-point shooter, sat out after getting a root canal on Tuesday. … Hawks coach Mike Woodson played for the Rockets from 1988-91. … During a play stoppage at the start of the second half, McGrady playfully grabbed a headset and did some commentary for the local television broadcast.