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McGrady helps Rockets hold on to stop Bulls' late charge

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Rockets built a big lead on the
Chicago Bulls late in the third quarter Thursday night, then
started feeling a terrifying case of deja vu.

At about the same point in their last game, the Rockets led San
Antonio by 19, then collapsed and lost by eight.


The Bulls rallied, too, but this time the Rockets survived --
barely.

Tracy McGrady had 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and
Yao Ming had 20 points and 12 rebounds to lift the Rockets, who
nearly blew a 21-point lead but hung on to beat hot-shooting Ben
Gordon and the Bulls 101-100.

Houston also nearly wasted large second-half leads in narrow
wins over Memphis, Milwaukee and New York.

"I don't know what it is," McGrady said. "We want to be
great. It's got to change. We can't throw away games like this."

Rafer Alston scored 19 and reserve Scott Padgett scored 11 to
spark a first-half run as the Rockets beat the Bulls for the
seventh time in eight meetings.

Gordon almost single-handedly carried Chicago to a dramatic
comeback win, scoring 30 of his 37 points in the second half.

He sank 11 of 22 shots and went 14-of-16 from the free-throw
line, breaking out of an early season slump. He came in shooting
only 37.8 percent from the field.

"I was just trying to be a little aggressive," Gordon said.
"I've been struggling with my shot lately, so I wanted to get to
the free-throw line. That's what kind of got me going."

Gordon scored nine in the final minute and his driving bank shot
with 27 seconds left cut Houston's lead to 95-92. After Shane
Battier sank two free throws, Gordon swished a 3-pointer with 15.2
seconds left to pull the Bulls to within 97-95.

Alston hit two foul shots with 14.4 seconds left and Gordon
missed a 3-pointer from the wing. Luther Head sank two free throws
with 4.7 seconds remaining.

Andres Nocioni had a layup and a 3-pointer in the closing
seconds.

The Rockets' locker room was somber afterward as they struggled
to explain their pattern of late-game dysfunction.

"We've just got to find a way to lock in, the same way we lock
in through the first three quarters," said Alston. "It's
mind-boggling now -- back-to-back -- to have such a lead and then let
it evaporate like that."

McGrady admitted he was having flashbacks to the Spurs' loss and
missed four of five shots in the final quarter.

"I'm not happy at all," McGrady said. "You've got to be happy
about the win, but the overall picture is not good. We know some of
those games can slip away."

The Rockets missed 12 of their first 19 shots before Padgett's
3-pointer late in the first quarter triggered a 20-6 burst.

Padgett scored all of his points and grabbed five rebounds
during the spurt and Kirk Snyder finished it with a three-point
play that gave the Rockets a 37-30 lead.

After hitting six of their first eight shots, the Bulls missed
17 of their next 23.

Yao had nine rebounds in the opening half and banked in a
turnaround just before the halftime buzzer to put the Rockets up
50-39.

Houston started the second half with a 12-2 run, capped by
McGrady's banked-in 3-pointer. McGrady shrugged his shoulders and
high-fived team owner Les Alexander as he trotted down the court.

But the lead wasn't secure.

On Tuesday, Houston missed 25 of its last 27 shots to fuel San
Antonio's rally. And about the same time the Rockets had collapsed
against the Spurs, it started happening again.

Gordon's pull-up jumper with 3:50 left in the third quarter cut
Houston's lead to 74-55 -- the exact score when San Antonio started
its comeback two nights ago.

Houston missed its last five shots of the quarter and Gordon
scored 10 points in three minutes to help Chicago trim the deficit
to 78-69 heading to the fourth.

The Bulls got within seven before Head swished a 3-pointer with
8:04 left for an 84-74 lead.

The Rockets led 90-79 when Gordon hit a jumper from just inside
the 3-point line to start the Bulls' last-ditch rally with 3:29 to
go.

"We just were a little bit too late," Gordon said. "I just
wish we'd done that at the beginning of the game."
^Notes:@ Bulls center Ben Wallace strained his right biceps in the
first quarter and went to the locker room. He returned early in the
second quarter with black tape wrapped around the injury. ... Bulls
G/F Adrian Griffin sat out for the second straight game with a
right calf strain. ... The Rockets improved to 33-3 under coach
Jeff Van Gundy when they reach 100 points.