HOUSTON (AP)—Minutes after the Houston Rockets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tracy McGrady was slurping down chicken noodle soup. He was sick all day, skipped the morning shootaround and showed up less than an hour before the game.
Good thing Houston didn’t need its All-Star guard too much in this one.
Yao Ming had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Rafer Alston had 17 points and nine assists in the Rockets’ 92-77 victory on Thursday night, their ninth win in 10 games. McGrady, sluggish and visibly ill throughout the game, scored eight points on 3-for-11 shooting.
“We had a lot of guys step up tonight,” McGrady said.
LeBron James had 32 points and seven rebounds for the Cavaliers, who sorely missed Drew Gooden, their second-leading rebounder. Gooden sat out with a groin injury, the first game he’s missed this season.
Houston outrebounded the Cavs 55-35 and Cleveland grabbed only seven offensive boards.
“We got outworked on the boards and we got outworked on all the loose balls,” said Coach Mike Brown.
The Rockets also held every Cavalier but James to a dismal shooting night. James went 12-for-23. The rest of the team went 19-for-55.
“We didn’t let a lot of other guys get going,” Alston said. “He’s a superstar, he’s going to get his and he’s going to be a factor in the game. As long as you eliminate the other guys, their role players, you should be OK out there.”
Houston led by one after a sluggish first half, then outscored Cleveland 32-20 in the third quarter to take control.
The Rockets sank their first five shots of the quarter, three of them 3-pointers. McGrady hit a deep jumper and a 3-pointer from the wing on consecutive possessions to put Houston up 53-44.
Later, Shane Battier sank his second 3-pointer and Luis Scola broke free for a dunk to stretch the lead to 65-51. The Cavs missed 11 of their first 16 shots and got outrebounded 14-4 in the first 10 minutes after halftime.
“Second half, we just fired up,” Yao said. “I was like, ‘I hope we can stay like this the rest of the night.”’
Besides missing Gooden, the Cavs were playing their fifth game without Anderson Varejao, who’s out with a sprained left ankle. Varejao and Gooden are both averaging 8.5 boards per game.
“When you play big teams, it’s going to affect us,” James said. “When you have 20 rebounds not here, it obviously hurts.”
Houston pushed the lead to 16 before James hit a 3-pointer over Battier in the final seconds of the third quarter to make it 72-59. James had three more baskets early in the fourth quarter during a 12-3 Cavs run that cut the deficit to seven.
Battier, Houston’s best one-on-one defender, did what he could to limit the NBA’s leading scorer. Battier was surprised he managed to score 15 points himself.
“LeBron was really, really good tonight, and took most of my focus,” Battier said. “I think I forgot about my offense a little bit. That guy does that to you.”
James sank two free throws with 3:22 left to pull Cleveland within six, at 83-77, but Yao hit a turnaround jumper 20 seconds later. McGrady missed a 3-pointer on Houston’s next possession, but Bonzi Wells rebounded and dunked to push the lead to 10.
McGrady was struggling to breathe seven minutes into the game and covered his head with a towel on the bench during the first time out. He returned to the game, but was replaced by Wells with 2:54 left in the first quarter.
James missed four of his first six shots, including a one-handed dunk attempt that Yao partially blocked. He hung in the air to hit a jumper in the final seconds of the quarter to cut Houston’s lead to 23-19.
The Rockets could’ve led by more, but missed 10 of their 11 3-point tries in the half. The Cavs finished the half with a 12-6 run and trailed 40-39 at the break. McGrady missed all five of his shots in the half.
The Cavs had won 11 of their previous 13 games.
Donyell Marshall started for Gooden, his first start since the 2004-05 season. … Cleveland G Daniel Gibson, a Houston native, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right hamstring. … The Cavs play no more road games against Western Conference teams this season. … Rockets G Luther Head sat out for the third straight game with a strained groin.