It worked perfectly.
Morris Peterson scored 18 points and led the smothering defensive effort on McGrady in the Raptors’ 94-81 victory over the injury-depleted Rockets on Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-7 Peterson also had five rebounds and seven assists, but he was at his best blanketing McGrady, who scored only seven points on 2-of-11 shooting after averaging 27 in Houston’s previous nine games.
“If you’d have told me before the game that T-Mac would score only seven points, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Peterson said. “I can’t take all the credit. I’ve got to give credit to my teammates—but I definitely took it as a challenge.”
McGrady had a season-high 11 assists, but could’ve had twice that number if his teammates had hit more open shots—the Rockets went 5-for-21 from 3-point range (24 percent).
“They really showed our other guys absolutely no regard,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “I’ve never seen a team just leave small guys wide open behind the 3. But that proved effective.”
Peterson shadowed McGrady wherever he went and whenever the five-time All-Star touched the ball, Peterson and another Raptor double-teamed him.
“It’s kind of tough when you’ve got two guys on you,” McGrady said. “They did a great job double-teaming me.”
McGrady scored six points in the first quarter, then missed five shots and sank only a single free throw the rest of the way.
“Tracy is just too good for one guy to guard him,” Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said. “Mo did a good job, but it was everybody doubling him and just moving their feet and staying connected. The plan was not to leave him alone.”
And with no Yao Ming and only nine healthy players, McGrady and the rest of the Rockets couldn’t solve the Raptors’ scheme.
Yao is out at least six weeks after surgery on his infected left big toe. Houston also played without Yao’s backup, Dikembe Mutombo (dislocated right middle finger), and guards Derek Anderson (calf strain), Jon Barry (calf strain) and Rafer Alston (fractured fibula).
McGrady knows other teams will try the same strategy on him—and he’s convinced the Rockets will handle it better the next time.
“With all of these guys being out, that’s pretty much all I’m going to see,” McGrady said. “I’m going to continue to do what I do. I’m not necessarily going to force any shots, but I will continue to try to get these guys the looks they got tonight.”
“We just have to roll with what we have,” said Howard. “We’re not going to be sulking or worrying about who’s not there. We’re going to play hard with what we have.”
The Rockets missed 9 of their first 12 shots and trailed from the opening minutes.
McGrady and Howard scored 14 of Houston’s first 16 points, but the more-balanced Raptors built a nine-point lead in the opening quarter.
Head and Moochie Norris, pressed into more playing time because of injuries to other Houston guards, helped the Rockets cut the lead to five by halftime. Together, they had 17 points in the second quarter and Head sank a 3-pointer in the half’s final minute to trim Houston’s deficit to 48-43.
The Rockets trailed only 57-50 after Lonnie Baxter dunked at the 8-minute mark of the third quarter. James answered with a drive and Peterson stole the ball from McGrady and hit two free throws to push the lead into double digits.
Toronto led 70-58 heading to the fourth and outscored Houston 15-9 in the first 4 1/2 minutes to put the game away.
The Rockets were playing their first home game since Dec. 6. They won five of six games on a West Coast swing, a franchise record for victories on a single road trip. …The game marked the first professional meeting between rookie twins Joey and Stephen Graham, who played together at Oklahoma State. Joey, 10 minutes older, scored 10 points for the Raptors, while Stephen had one basket in six minutes for Houston. …In the second quarter, Rockets guard David Wesley dove over the scorers’ table saving a loose ball and landed on former Rocket and current television analyst Clyde Drexler. …The Rockets had won nine of their previous 10 home games against Toronto.