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McGrady's inspired effort sets up finale in Dallas

HOUSTON (AP) -- Tracy McGrady shouldered the burden of doing it
all in Orlando, and had no playoff success to show for it.

With a little more help in Houston, McGrady is on the brink of a
postseason breakthrough.

Playing with the desperation of a man on the brink of
elimination, McGrady had 37 points, eight rebounds and seven
assists to help the Rockets avoid a first-round exit with a 101-83
victory over Dallas on Thursday night.

"He's our superstar and we ride him," Rockets guard Mike James
said. "Tonight we tried to help him with the load. We know he's
going to lead us, we've just got to chip in."

The series is now tied 3-3, with Game 7 in Dallas on Saturday.
The winner will face top-seeded Phoenix in the Western Conference
semifinals.

James came off the bench for 22 points, Jon Barry scored 12 of
his 14 points in the fourth quarter and Dikembe Mutombo provided
some stout interior defense for the Rockets, who have been bounced
in the opening round in their last three playoff appearances.
Houston last won a series in 1997, when the lineup featured Hakeem
Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley.

Jerry Stackhouse led Dallas with 21 points, and Dirk Nowitzki
scored 19 on only 5-of-22 shooting as he continued his series-long
struggles against McGrady's defense.

Rockets fans who were disappointed by blown fourth-quarter leads
in the last two home games, including a 20-0 run by Dallas in Game
3, were treated to an improbably dominant finish in this one.

McGrady scored eight straight points, including two 3s, during a
19-0 spurt that turned a close game into a rout and gave Houston a
101-80 lead. Dallas could not stop McGrady with double teams, rough
play or simply allowing him to fire away from outside.

"When I feel like I can make 3s from anywhere on the floor,"
said McGrady, who went 6-of-10 from behind the arc, "my defender
is at my mercy."

The Mavericks couldn't even counter with their highly touted
offense. Dallas shot 4-for-27 in the final period, watching shot
after shot bounce off the rim as the Rockets pulled away down the
stretch.

McGrady, who has never advanced past the first round in his
eight-year career, came through in the clutch to avoid having his
team blow a two-game lead for the second straight time. It also
happened when he played for Orlando against Detroit in 2003.

"I've been in this situation before," McGrady said. "I'm
going to lay everything out on the line -- leave everything out
there on that basketball court, and I'm going to bring my teammates
with me."

Back in Orlando, of course, he never had this kind of help: an
All-Star big man in Yao Ming, a bench teeming with driven veterans,
and a coach who once led an eighth-seeded team to the NBA Finals.

After drawing a $100,000 fine -- the largest ever assessed
against a coach -- for accusing officials of targeting Yao this
postseason, Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy was greeted by loud cheers
during pregame introductions.

That didn't stop Van Gundy from giving officials a mouthful
after a hard foul on Yao midway through the second quarter that
sent the 7-foot-6 center tumbling to the floor. Yao scrambled to
his feet and stared down at Dallas' Josh Howard -- a rare show of
anger from the gentle giant -- but was quickly escorted away by
teammates.

That foul seemed to wake up the Rockets, who soon took their
first lead of the game on a three-point play by Ryan Bowen.

The Mavericks responded with their own complaints about the
officiating after this one, including rookie coach Avery Johnson,
who clearly didn't appreciate all the attention focused on Van
Gundy's remarks.

"Maybe I need to go crazy. Maybe I should go crazy. Maybe that
will help," Johnson said in a rambling postgame tirade. "This
series is about basketball, not all the other stuff. We lost the
game. We don't make excuses. The game was called fairly pretty much
... there's no excuses, no complaints, no nothing."

Stackhouse even made a suggestion that will almost certainly
catch the attention of NBA commissioner David Stern.

"It was like there were phantoms out there fouling,"
Stackhouse said. "Normally you know who fouls. But tonight we were
looking around trying to figure out who they called it on. Maybe
everyone wanted to see a Game 7."

McGrady came up with a scoring flurry just before halftime. He
hit a 29-footer on one possession and nailed another 3 as he was
fouled by Michael Finley. McGrady mugged for the crowd, then
completed the four-point play to give Houston a 10-point lead.

He even took on the task of slowing down Stackhouse, who made
his first six shots, including two 3s, to push the Mavericks out to
an 11-point lead early in the second quarter.

But with McGrady shadowing him, Stackhouse made only three of
his next 10 attempts. James scored 13 points in the second quarter
to provide the Rockets with their own spark off the bench, and
Houston was back in the game.

The Rockets won without much help from Yao, who avoided foul
trouble for the first time in the series but never seemed to find a
rhythm. Yao finished with just eight points and five rebounds and
sat out the entire fourth quarter as Van Gundy went with Mutombo.

"I had a good night's sleep last night, and when I came here, I
just felt we were going to win," said Mutombo, who had 10 rebounds
and four blocks. "I'm not ready to go home."

Game notes
Finley became the Mavericks' career leader in postseason
games played with 49, surpassing Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper.
... Game 6 was the first time the team that outscored its opponent
in the first quarter lost. ... Houston has an all-time record of
5-1 in Game 7s.