Rockets 111, Grizzlies 109
McGrady scored a season-high 38 points and had nine rebounds to help the Rockets beat Memphis 111-109 on Sunday night, handing Grizzlies interim coach Tony Barone his first loss.
Coming off another bout with back spasms, McGrady has topped 30 points in the Rockets’ last two games without their All-Star center. On Sunday, McGrady hit 15 of 30 shots and went 5-for-8 from 3-point range.
“I’m playing with a great deal of confidence now,” said McGrady, who sat out seven games in December with the back injury. “Not having the big fellow out there, a lot rides on my shoulders to carry this team. I’m just accepting the challenge.”
Dikembe Mutombo, Yao’s replacement, had 11 rebounds for Houston. The Rockets hit 14 3-pointers, a season high.
Memphis double-teamed McGrady late in the game and he found Head open for two 3-pointers in the final 2 minutes.
Head went 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
“When your teammates have enough confidence in you to pass you the ball, you’ve got to have confidence in yourself,” Head said.
Mike Miller matched a season high with seven 3-pointers and scored 32 points for Memphis in its 12th loss in 14 games. The Grizzlies lost five in a row before Barone replaced the fired Mike Fratello before Saturday’s 110-104 win over Toronto.
Miller likes his role in his new coach’s free-wheeling offense.
“He’s given me the opportunity to shoot,” Miller said, “and I know, even if I miss, he will keep giving me the ball.”
Since Yao’s injury, the Rockets had held three opponents to a combined 34 percent shooting. But Houston’s defense struggled from the start with the speedy tempo set by the Grizzlies, who hit 19 of their first 32 shots.
The Rockets stayed with Memphis by starting 6-for-10 from 3-point range. McGrady hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second quarter to forge a 42-42 tie.
McGrady admitted the Rockets weren’t ready for the Grizzlies’ wide-open style.
“It’s kind of scary when you play a team that has a new coach,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect.”
The Grizzlies led 59-58 at the break after shooting 59 percent (23-of-39). They scored many of their points by simply racing down the floor and finding open shots before the Rockets settled into their defense.
“We got away with not being ready to defend,” said Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy.
The Rockets mounted an 8-0 run early in the third quarter as the Grizzlies cooled off, missing seven of their first 10 shots after halftime. Former Rocket Stromile Swift ended Houston’s spurt with a dunk, but McGrady answered with a three-point play that put the Rockets up 75-68.
McGrady added two turnaround jumpers to reach 31 points, matching his total Friday night in a 94-68 victory over Atlanta.
The Grizzlies missed seven straight shots before Chucky Atkins’ jumper with 2:15 left in the third quarter. Head then made a 3-pointer to stretch Houston’s lead to 84-72.
Pau Gasol started a 13-3 Memphis spurt with a three-point play with 10:17 left in the game. McGrady returned from a short rest with 8:50 remaining, then crashed into the scorer’s table on a loose ball. The play ended with Dahntay Jones dunking at the other end and cutting the Rockets’ lead to 87-85.
McGrady set a season high with another 3-pointer 30 seconds later.
Swift scored twice and Atkins scored on a drive with 4:39 left to put Memphis up 93-92.
Houston then went on a 12-2 spurt, capped by a mid-range jumper by McGrady and a 3-pointer by Head. The Grizzlies answered with a last-ditch 11-4 spurt and cut the lead to two in the final minute. Alston sank a free throw with 5.4 seconds to go.
Atkins then hit a free throw with 3.6 seconds left, but missed the second and McGrady rebounded.
“I love the way we are playing,” Atkins said. “It’s fun and the guys like it. We got a little tired at the end, but we will be all right.”
Rookie Rudy Gay twisted his left ankle trying to guard McGrady late in the third quarter and limped to the bench. He returned with 5:51 left, then returned to the bench about a minute later. … The Rockets have won 19 of the last 24 meetings with the Grizzlies in Houston.