The Houston Rockets brushed back into a first-round NBA Western Conference playoff series with the Jazz, rallying from six points down at the start of the fourth quarter Thursday night to beat Utah 94-92 at EnergySolutions Arena.
The No. 5 seed Rockets, who got a team-high 27 points from seven-time All-Star Tracy McGrady, cut Utah's advantage in the best-of-seven series to 2-1 and forced at least a Game 5 that will be played Tuesday in Houston.
McGrady who hadn't hit a field goal in the final quarter of the series' first two games scored seven straight points as Houston took the lead late in the fourth on Thursday, including a key 20-foot jumper with one minute and 42 seconds remaining.
"I was just waiting for the right time," said McGrady, who shouldered the blame for Houston's two losses.
"I was just trying to be passive early in the fourth quarter," he added, "and I felt like if we were able to keep it close, I was waiting until the right time to really insert myself on the offensive end."
The plan, if it really was that, worked to perfection.
McGrady, who also hit two free throws to put the Rockets ahead to stay at 88-86 with 2:50 to go, was free on the game-changing play because defender Andrei Kirilenko got tangled with pick-setter Carl Landry.
Kirilenko got called for a foul after both went to the floor, McGrady's jumper counted and Landry made a freebie that put Houston up 93-86.
"He mixed it up, which side he was coming off to get the ball, and he was very patient with Kirilenko," Houston coach Rick Adelman said of McGrady's fourth-quarter scoring binge.
"That's huge," Adelman added. "He's the guy. He's the guy that we need down the stretch whether it's a pass, or whether it's a shot."
The No. 4 seed Jazz answered Houston's unconventional three-point play with two 3-pointers, one from Kyle Korver and one from Mehmet Okur, to get to within one with 37.4 seconds left.
McGrady missed a jumper on Houston's ensuing possession, but the Jazz's hopes were squashed when point guard Deron Williams who got the ball back from a well-guarded Korver drove to the basket, only to be blocked by Landry in the final three seconds.
"He (Jazz coach Jerry Sloan) said that he wanted to plan a timeout," Williams said, "but once we got the ball and I looked up there were only 15 seconds left, and the play he wanted, it would have been hard to get off with 15 seconds, so we kind of scrambled."
Houston's Luis Scola added another free throw with 0.2 seconds left, leaving the Jazz who missed 13 of their 33 free-throw attempts, including four misses on six tries in the fourth quarter to regroup before Saturday night's Game 4.
"If we hit our free throws," said Jazz All-Star Carlos Boozer, who shot 3-of-8 from the line himself, including 0-for-2 in the fourth, "we win the game."
The Jazz and Rockets wound up tied at 44 after a first half that basically belonged to Williams at least from the Utah perspective. The Jazz point scored 21 points before the break, including 16 of Utah's first 27, and finished with a game-high 28.
He shot 6-of-9 from the field, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, and made all six of his free-throw attempts through two quarters.
Williams also dished five assists in the first half, including one to Matt Harpring for a 3-pointer that made it 44-43 Rockets.
Harpring also rebounded the miss of a Williams jumper and was fouled by Chuck Hayes with one second remaining before halftime.
Harpring missed the first freebie stemming from the call but made the second, tying the game at 44 and denying Houston a chance to lead at the break for the first time in three playoff games this year and seven between the same two clubs last year.
McGrady, meanwhile, tried to make the half his as well.
The Rockets star took 13 of Houston's 44 opening-half shots from the field, but he made good on just five and along with 2-for-5 free-throw shooting had only 12 points heading into the third quarter.
Yet Thursday ultimately ended the frustration for McGrady, who playing with padding on his sore left shoulder has appeared in six postseason series without ever advancing to the second round.
"We played with a lot of passion and a lot of heart," said McGrady, who finished 11-of-26 from the field and 5-for-9 from the line. "We kept our composure."
And kept their hopes alive.
NOTES: Landry, accidentally whacked in the face by Boozer as they chased after a loose ball during the second quarter, lost at least one tooth. He also planned to undergo postgame X-rays for a possible broken nose, but returned to play in the second half ... The Jazz have been up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series only two times previous time in franchise history ... Houston point Rafer Alston finished with 20 points after missing the series' first two games with a pulled hamstring.
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