A change of scenery was just what the All-Star duo and the rest of the Houston Rockets needed to regain control of their playoff series with Utah.
McGrady had 26 points and a career-high 16 assists, Yao had 21 points and 15 rebounds, and the Rockets beat the Jazz 96-92 on Monday night to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.
“It’s up to me to make my teammates better and to get them the open shots,” McGrady said. “If I penetrate and be aggressive and guys collapse on me, then those guys got to be confident enough to knock down shots on the perimeter.”
Yao sealed the victory with two free throws with 11 seconds left. His last rebound was in the closing seconds after Deron Williams missed a desperation 3-pointer.
Back home after two lethargic losses in Utah, the Rockets rediscovered their shooting touch, going 35-for-75 from the field (47 percent) and 12-for-24 from 3-point range. They also outrebounded Utah 42-39.
“We’re very comfortable here,” McGrady said. “We played with a great deal of confidence.”
The Rockets can was a series for the first time since 1997 in Game 6 on Thursday in Utah. The Jazz dominated the first two games there and haven’t lost to Houston at home since March 2005.
Carlos Boozer of the Jazz scored 26 points but had only eight rebounds, denied a double-double for the first time in the series. Derek Fisher added 17 and Williams had 13 for the Jazz, who have lost three straight Game 6s.
Boozer remains confident, though, knowing Utah dominated Houston in Games 3 and 4.
“We’ll be ready to go on Thursday,” Boozer said, “make no mistake about that.”
Utah’s last win in a Game 6 was a 103-100 victory over Houston in the 1997 Western Conference finals.
McGrady left the game in the first quarter with a hip pointer, but came back to score 20 in the final three quarters. He hit 11 of 25 shots and grabbed four rebounds.
From the start, McGrady was more aggressive driving to the basket than he was in Utah.
He was fouled with 3:09 left in the first quarter, then drove for another layup with 2:40 left. A minute later, he was bending over, clutching his right side and asking coach Jeff Van Gundy to call a timeout.
McGrady limped off the floor with 1:14 left in the quarter, then went to the locker room with trainer Keith Jones, an ominous sign for the Rockets. McGrady missed 44 games over the last two regular seasons, mostly because of back problems, and Houston lost 35 of them.
This time, the seven-time All-Star returned a few minutes later and immediately checked back into the game. The Rockets said McGrady had a hip pointer. McGrady said after the game he wasn’t worried about the injury affecting him on Thursday.
McGrady missed his next three shots and Utah stretched its early lead to 37-27. Yao then flipped in two hook shots and McGrady hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 44-40.
McGrady drove down the lane in the final minute of the half, then found Shane Battier in the corner for a 3-pointer that made it 44-43.
The Rockets went 12-for-39 from 3-point range in Games 3 and 4, losing both games by double digits.
“They found their life with the 3-point shots,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “We broke down a couple of times on the defensive end and gave up the kinds of baskets you don’t want to give up.”
Luther Head, 1-for-6 from 3-point range in Utah, hit two early in the final quarter to give the Rockets a 76-75 lead. McGrady assisted on both to pass his previous career high of 13.
“He created so many great shots for other guys through his penetration and he played a tremendous game,” Van Gundy said.
McGrady swished a jumper from the free throw line and scored on a backdoor cut and Juwan Howard found Yao for a layup that put Houston up 91-84 with 3:58 to go.
Matt Harpring scored twice and Boozer drove around Yao for basket that cut the Rockets’ lead to one. Yao banked in a shot, but Boozer answered to make it 93-92.
Harpring missed a mid-range jumper with 20.5 seconds left and Rafer Alston rebounded. He split two free throws to put the Rockets up by two.
Fisher then drove down the lane, but was called for an offensive foul after colliding with Chuck Hayes. Yao got the inbounds pass and hit both free throws. Yao went 9-for-10 from the line in the game.
“That fourth quarter,” Boozer said, “they just executed a little bit better. We missed a few shots and they won the game.”
Utah outscored Houston 28-25 in the third quarter. The team that won that quarter had won the previous four games. … The Jazz went 5-for-12 from 3-point range after going 9-for-49 in the first four games. … The Rev. Jesse Jackson had a courtside seat.