McGrady scored 29 points and got plenty of help, and the Rockets staved off elimination Tuesday night by routing the Jazz 95-69 in Game 5 of their first-round series.
Luis Scola added 18 points and 12 rebounds, Rafer Alston scored 14 points and Dikembe Mutombo grabbed 10 rebounds as the Rockets cut their series deficit to 3-2 and forced Game 6 in Utah on Friday night.
Now, the Jazz can end the series at home, where they went 37-4 during the regular season. But it’s no guarantee—Houston was the first team to beat Utah in Salt Lake City during the regular season and won Game 3 there last Thursday.
“We’re in a great situation,” McGrady said. “We know we can win in Utah because we’ve done it before.”
The Rockets stayed alive by doing everything that they hadn’t done for most of the series. They shot well, hit their free throws and got valuable production off the bench.
Houston came into the game with the lowest scoring average of any playoff team (85.5) and was shooting only 39.9 percent from the field and 65.7 percent from the free throw line in the series. In Game 5, the Rockets shot 47 percent (37-of-79), went 15-of-19 from the line and outscored Utah’s bench 26-9.
“Our guys were really ready to play,” said Houston coach Rick Adelman. “We used all they had, the way they approached the game was exactly what we had to have. It’s the same thing they’re going to have to have going back to Utah.”
McGrady had scored a total of 12 points in the fourth quarters of the previous four games. He scored eight in this one, all when the outcome had been decided.
“I was able to get some rest so I had fresh legs,” said McGrady, who went 13-for-26 from the field. “I kept them off balance tonight.”
The Jazz, meanwhile, endured their worst offensive performance of the season, setting a season-low point total by eight. They shot 36.5 percent (27-of-74), went 2-for-9 from 3-point range and 13-for-23 from the free throw line. They also committed 18 turnovers and were outrebounded 46-38.
“Right from the start, the defense was just unbelievable,” McGrady said. “I think that was one of the better defensively games we’ve played this season.”
Williams praised Houston’s defense, but also blamed Utah’s offensive woes on poor decision-making.
“They’re a tough defensive team,” Williams said. “We got away from our offense a little bit, especially early in the game. We rushed some shots. We have to realize what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot, when to make the extra pass and when to shoot it. We struggled with that today and it’s something we can do better.”
Adelman had Shane Battier and four reserves on the floor to start the second quarter and the second unit took control of the game.
Backup point guard Bobby Jackson, who shot 1-for-10 in Game 4, swished a 3-pointer with 10:24 left in the first half to give Houston its largest lead of the series at 25-16. Jackson picked up a loose ball—Utah’s seventh turnover— and hit two free throws a minute later.
Utah’s bench had outscored Houston’s bench in three of the previous four games.
“That second group came in and was huge for us,” Adelman said. “That was a big turning point in the game. We kind of got it going there. That’s what we need, we need guys to come in the game and they have to have a positive impact.”
Houston led 43-32 at the break without much help from McGrady, who scored 11. The Jazz mustered a season-low point total for a half after the Rockets’ bench outscored their reserves 18-0.
“They came out and they pushed us all over the building,” said Utah coach Jerry Sloan. “We played right into their hands. They’ve made up their minds to go after us and they have the last couple of games.”
McGrady hit a jumper 14 seconds into the third quarter, but then gave away two careless turnovers to help Utah cut the lead to seven. But McGrady drove for a layup and Scola converted a three-point play as Houston rebuilt a double-digit lead.
The Rockets used a 12-0 run to stretch their lead to 70-48. McGrady swished a jumper over Matt Harpring with eight seconds left in the third quarter to put Houston up 74-55. Harpring stepped out of bounds at the other end, a fitting end to another dismal quarter for Utah.
The Jazz couldn’t make a serious threat in the final quarter as they continued to miss easy shots and bobble away turnovers. Sloan benched his starters with 3:42 left and Houston ahead 87-67.
Adelman took out his starters with 2:08 left. McGrady and Alston smacked hands with their teammates as they confidently walked to the bench.
The Rockets led at halftime for the first time in 12 playoff games against Utah over the past two seasons. … The Jazz had won their last three Game 5s when holding a 3-1 series lead. … Mutombo had at least 10 rebounds in a playoff game for the first time since 2005. … Boozer has double-doubles in four of the five games.