HOUSTON Being a defense-minded coach, the Utah Jazz's Jerry Sloan thinks you can stop anything.
"I thought you could put stops on that," he quipped following the Jazz's strange 82-74 victory Tuesday night in the Toyota Center against the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets have been without center Yao Ming for some time after he had toe surgery.
It didn't seem to matter much Tuesday because Tracy McGrady was blowing past any Jazz defender, many of whom fouled him, for 21 first-half points, leading the Rockets to a 41-36 lead, a lead that was once nine points.
And then McGrady left the game at halftime to be with his fiancee Clarenda, who had gone into labor with their child, who was born at 9:53 p.m. CST in Houston and named Laymen Lamar McGrady.
With a new McGrady about to enter the world, a whole new world opened up for the Jazz a world in which they could win a road game while shooting 30 percent in the fourth quarter.
"He was sure a big difference in the ballgame," said Sloan of McGrady." No question what a great player he is.
"I know it has to be tough on Jeff (Rockets coach Van Gundy) trying to do everything he can to win a ballgame and you wonder what's going to happen to you next if that happens after having all your players hurt and a guy has to go home because, I guess, of a baby being born," Sloan said, chuckling about trying to stop labor.
One of his own children was born while Sloan was playing. "Yeah, that's legal," he said with a big smile. "My wife probably didn't want me there anyway."
"Family comes first," said Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, who had a tough first half trying to stay in front of McGrady. "I want to just congratulate Tracy on a little bit more person in his family.
"We like it he was out," Kirilenko added, saying the birth was a good thing for the McGrady family but not so good at the time for his team. "No doubt Tracy is one of the best players in the league and it's hard to play against him, especially this first half when he gave so much trouble. But we just fight through (it). I would say we have character.
"Poor game and win better than good game and lose."
Point guard Milt Palacio said the Jazz felt "a sigh of relief" when they found out McGrady had left the building, "but you can't think about it. You've got to forget about that," he said. No use getting it in your head that you can relax.
"We can't feel sorry for them that they're missing their best players," Palacio said.
"It was kind of an ugly game, "allowed Okur. "We couldn't execute, we couldn't guard T-Mac." But that was the first half. The second half, the Jazz went to the boards "and found whoever was open."
For the game the Jazz shot 34.8 percent, up 31.5 from the first half, to 34.2 for the Rockets, who were at 41.2 while McGrady was playing.
One of McGrady's points came on a technical foul against Okur, who retaliated for an elbow from Dikembe Mutombo with a two-handed push against the veteran center playing for Yao. Mutombo made one of his two free throws, and the episode broke a 33-all tie and helped the Rockets finish the half strong.
"He swing his elbows at me. That's what I saw at the moment," said Okur, "so I just let it go."
"No excuses," said Kirilenko, but it was a weary Jazz team that played and won back-to-back games with the first one in overtime at the Delta Center Monday night over Memphis. Even Sloan admitted his team was tired, and he made a lot of lineup changes trying to combat that problem.
He said some of his switches failed, especially near the end of the first half when he substituted and the Jazz quickly fell from a tie to five points down.
But Palacio provided a strong game off the bench Keith McLeod started at point guard to go with games that Sloan termed "active" from Kirilenko (10 points, eight rebounds) and Okur (20 points, 17 rebounds) to help the Jazz stay ahead of the Rockets. Juwan Howard scored 19 and David Wesley 14 for Houston.
Palacio "played pretty well tonight," Sloan said a day after keeping him on the bench for 45 minutes.Comment on this story
The Jazz did not handle the Rockets' late press terribly well, Sloan said, but Palacio made two free throws after getting a finger in the eye with 36 seconds left after the Rockets' Wesley made back-to-back baskets that cut Utah's lead to five. From there it didn't matter too much that the Jazz missed half of their final six free throws.
"We didn't give up," Kirilenko said.
Utah, 13-16, is now off until a 6 p.m. New Year's Eve encounter in the Delta Center with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Rockets fell to 10-16.