Rockets get 33 from Yao, game-winner from McGrady

DALLAS (AP) -- Tracy McGrady had a secret. The only people who
knew what he was going to do in the closing seconds of a tie game
were his coach and his big man.

Pulling off a plan arranged during a previous timeout, McGrady
surprised the rest of his Houston Rockets teammates, and all of the
Dallas Mavericks, by not stopping the clock and going straight up
the court with 10.4 seconds left. With Yao Ming doing his part by
setting a screen near the 3-point arc, all McGrady had to do was
bury his shot -- which, of course, he did.

McGrady's basket, a 2-pointer, and a miss by Michael Finley at
the buzzer gave Houston a thrilling 113-111 victory over Dallas on
Monday night and a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.

By winning both road games, the Rockets can advance by winning
the next two games in Houston, starting Thursday night. But McGrady
isn't looking ahead, remembering how his Orlando team blew leads of
2-0 and 3-1 in the first round against Detroit two years ago.

"It's a new series for us. We're definitely in the driver's
seat," McGrady said. "We've got to stay grounded. We haven't done
anything yet."

Actually, McGrady and Yao have done something -- they've
established themselves as the Western Conference's new dynamic duo,
filling the void created by the breakup of Shaq and Kobe.

The preseason hype and hope surrounding their union became a
reality with this game, as Yao scored 33 points -- making 13 of 14
shots, with his only miss arguably a turnover -- and McGrady scoring

A McGrady drive-and-dish for a Yao dunk put Houston up 111-109
with 1:06 left. Then Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki tied it by faking
McGrady several times and nailing a jumper from around the free
throw line with 10.4 seconds left.

During a time out with 26.4 seconds left, Van Gundy asked
McGrady whether they should call time to set up a last shot. He
said he'd rather spot up behind a Yao screen, then told only Yao
what he was going to do.

"They tried to trap me in the backcourt, but I got away from
them pretty easily," McGrady said. "I just got the ball up the
court. Yao set a great screen. I realized I was by myself when I
came off. ... Let me be honest. I don't even know if there was
someone else. I was so zoned out. I don't know, I don't care."

Given one last chance to salvage a split at home, Dallas failed
when Finley missed a jumper. Mavs coach Avery Johnson said Nowitzki
was the first option, but he was double-teamed.

"He had a good shot at the free throw line," Johnson said.
"It just didn't go in."

As bad of a hole as this is, Dallas has been in worse When the
Mavs returned to the playoffs after a decade-long absence in 2001,
they trailed Utah 2-0 in a best-of-five series before advancing.
This group goes to Houston knowing it can win on the road, having
won a franchise-best 29 road games.

"It's possible," Finley said. "It's happened before. It's not
like we have to win the lottery."

The Rockets, however, will be carrying a nine-game winning
streak, while the Mavs will be reeling from their first consecutive
losses under Johnson. They came into the playoffs 16-2 in his first
five weeks since replacing Don Nelson and now have that many losses
in three days.

The first concern for Dallas is getting Nowitzki going. He was
4-of-17 -- and 9-of-36 for the series -- when he made a 16-footer in
transition with 7:09 left. He scored again on the next trip and put
Dallas head 107-106 with 2:32 left on a hook over Yao. Still, he
finished 8-of-21 for 26 points. He had just two rebounds and
committed three turnovers.

"Every time I come off a screen, they're running somebody at
me," Nowitzki said. "I still haven't found my rhythm from the

Five other Mavs scored in double figures, with Josh Howard
putting up 17, Jason Terry 15 and Erick Dampier 14. Keith Van Horn
came off the bench to score 13, going 5-for-6.

With Yao scoring his most points since getting 40 against
Toronto on Dec. 20, and McGrady making 10 of 19 shots, the Rockets
didn't need much else. They got 16 from Jon Barry, including three
straight 3s early in the second quarter, and 14 from Bob Sura,
including the 3-pointer that put Houston up 109-107.

It was only fitting that this game came down to the last shot
considering how the teams fought on every possession. Someone wrote
"Energy, Effort, Excitement" on a wipe board in Dallas' locker
room before the game, and both teams embodied it throughout, much
to the delight of 20,884 fans, the largest crowd in Mavs history.

Players were scrambling for loose balls and hurrying to help on
defense. There were several collisions, one leaving Barry's nose
bloodied, another sending Houston's Ryan Bowen to the locker room
to check his ankle. And that was just in the first half.

The Rockets led the entire first half, by as much as eight, but
the Mavericks gained control early in the second half -- for the
first time since 12-10 in Game 1 -- and were ahead most of the last
two quarters.

Game notes
When Mavs tied at 51 late in second quarter, the crowd
became so loud that officials had trouble hearing Houston call
timeout. ... With 38.9 seconds left before halftime and Dallas
throwing the ball in near the Rockets' bench, Houston coach Jeff
Van Gundy was on the wrong side of inbounder Michael Finley. When
officials told him to move, he smirked and saluted. ... Mavs owner
Mark Cuban posted on his blog Sunday the team's playoff record
since 2002 based on who officiated each game. They came in 0-6 in
games worked by Monday night's crew chief, Dan Crawford. They had
at least one win for all other refs who worked at least three
games. Dallas came in 1-3 under both of the other officials, Greg
Willard and Mark Wunderlich.