Yao Ming had to come up large in Game 6 for the Rockets to have any chance, right?
Yao (8 points, 5 boards) had his worst game of the series, but Tracy McGrady and the team's rejuvenated bench helped spark a 19-0 run in the final period, giving the Rockets a 101-83 rout of Dallas and forcing a Game 7 on Saturday.
McGrady was something else... again. T-Mac hit 14-28 shots for 37 points, 8 boards and 7 assists while being assigned to defend Dirk Nowitzki (held to 5-22 shooting) on the other end for a healthy chunk of time. Can't say enough great things about his heroic effort tonight. Backs against the wall, T-Mac stepped up to the plate.
He wasn't alone.
Mike James may have saved the Rockets' season, coming in early in the second quarter and turning this thing around. At that time it looked like the Mavericks, up 10, were going to cruise to a rout and the home squad would roll over and die. Jerry Stackhouse (31 points) hit his first 6 shots, Yao picked up 2 quick fouls and even McGrady went to the bench for a breather. The forecast was not pretty.
But then James happened.
MJ came in and started hitting shots, then was all over the place on defense. He picked rookie Devin Harris' pocket right off the inbounds and scored, then swiped the ball again. In 64 seconds he scored 8 points and the Rockets were back in it.
"In the beginning, I just wanted to give a defensive spark, then the baskets started coming," said James in the postgame press conference. "My main goal was to play inspired basketball tonight, and let my energy feed everyone else."
He did just that as his teammates rallied. Late in that period, T-Mac hit a long triple from the parking lot, then did it again and picked up the foul for a 4-point play and the Toyota Center just erupted. Tracy's free throw put the Rockets up 10 and in a hair less than a quarter, the Rockets had pulled off a 20-point turnaround.
But I have to give credit to the Mavericks: They seem to never cave when the Rockets make a run. Houston goes up 6, 8 or even 10 points and it seems like in a minute or two Dallas regains the lead.
They did it twice tonight, once at the start of the third, tying the game. After Houston built the lead back to 6 late in the period, the Mavs did it again to close, actually leading by one heading to the fourth.
That's when it looked like the Rocks were in trouble. Yao looked awful, getting blocked by Dirk twice and missing a couple free throws as well. He was either gassed, or coming up small in the biggest NBA game of his career to date -- or both.
Van Gundy benched him to start the fourth, and it worked (did it ever). Yao did not play one single minute because Mutombo was that effective, cleaning the glass and patrolling the paint. With Jon Barry (12 of his 14 points in the 4th) and McGrady stroking it, Deke did the dirty work.
In all, Mutombo grabbed 5 boards and blocked 4 shots in the final frame, one of which helped bust open the game - a nasty facial of Jason Terry that led to a T-Mac triple on the other end that, by then, put Houston up 14.
It was a great game, another classic duel (until the final half of the fourth) that has characterized this series, and it sets up yet another for Game 7. But we know the Rockets responded in an elimination game, and now they play another -- with the same applying for the Mavericks.
Saturday: Only one comes out alive. Winner goes to Phoenix. Loser goes home.