Phase II of the Jazz's Back to the Future Tour concluded Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena with a 106-95 loss to Tracy McGrady. Technically, the Jazz lost to the Houston Rockets, but what can you say when one person drops 47 points on you?
But for the sake of accuracy, let's allow the Jazz lost to the Rockets. That would be the same Rockets the Jazz eked past in the first round of last year's playoffs. Same Rockets they'll probably have to deal with in next spring's playoffs. No real surprises. A little bit of self-destruction and a whole lot of McGrady.
"This is the NBA," said Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer, who had the unenviable assignment to guard McGrady, along with Andrei Kirilenko. "He averaged 30 points a season. So you've just got to try to make it tough on them."
Which isn't exactly what happened, but who could blame Brewer? He's not the first guy McGrady has embarrassed. "I kind of take it personally, but it's early in the season," said Brewer. "You learn from your mistakes."
If not devastating, McGrady's torrid night wasn't unfamiliar. He scored 26 or more points five times in the playoffs last spring. Besides being a premiere scorer, he's also part of a team the Jazz know by heart. Remember the old "Bo Knows" campaign or the Larry H. Miller 's "You Know this Guy" commercials?
Nobody knows each other like the Jazz and Rockets. Four regular season meetings last year, seven playoff games, a commercial break, and they were back at it on Thursday. Same familiar faces in the same familiar places. Because the Jazz played Houston in the final regular season game last year, the teams ended up meeting eight straight times.
This is a series that's flat-out ancient. The Jazz have played more post-season games against the Rockets (33) than any other team. Likewise, they have played more all-time games against the Rockets (159 ) than any other.
Thus, Phase I of the Back to the Future Tour came Tuesday, when the Jazz opened the season at Golden State with a 117-96 win. Same Golden State they beat in the Western Conference semifinals last spring. Phase II was Thursday against the Rockets, in Utah's home opener. Phase III is Saturday when the Jazz and Warriors meet again, this time in Salt Lake.
After that the teams will get a change of scenery, which is probably a good thing. By then they'll all be squabbling like siblings in the back seat.
Last spring and Thursday made one thing abundantly clear: Golden State, the Jazz can handle easily. Houston, well, you have a problem.
In a way, it was the Houston series, rather than Golden State, that defined the Jazz last season. It's when the Jazz grew up. They lost the first two games in Houston, won two in Salt Lake, lost again in Houston, then won the last two games. Suddenly, surprisingly, the Jazz had become a team to respect.
By Thursday the only major thing that had changed was that Houston was back on top. After jumping to a 12-point first quarter lead, the Jazz slipped into a one-pass-and-a-shot routine. Soon it was the third quarter and the Jazz were down by 14. They cut the lead to five in the fourth quarter, but there was still too much Mac.
"He scored when he wanted to," said Jazz guard Deron Williams.
Added Williams, "We executed the way we wanted in the first game (against Golden State) and got licked in this game. We've got to get back to the way we were against Golden State."
And so it goes. T-Mac and Yao Ming still drive the bus in Houston, as do Williams and Boozer in Salt Lake. Yao still takes up enough space to fill a national park and McGrady still fires away without conscience.
And the Jazz are still going to have to deal with Houston.Of course you knew all that.
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