HOUSTON Tracy McGrady does not want to go to Salt Lake City down 0-2.
So when asked specifically about the meaning of tonight's Game 2 here between Houston and Utah, the Rockets' All-Star did not quibble with the question.
"Absolutely," McGrady said Sunday. "This is a must-win, because it's tough to win in Utah."
Stronger yet, though, may be the weight on McGrady after he produced just 20 points and shot only 7-of-21 from the field including a scoreless fourth quarter in which he missed all three shots he took during the Jazz's Game 1 victory Saturday night.
All-Star center Yao Ming is sidelined for the postseason.
Starting point guard Rafer Alston is still out with a hamstring injury.
Houston's complementary cast is a collection of journeymen, rookies and role players.
All eyes tonight, then, will be watching to see if McGrady can conjure a way for the Rockets to emerge from an 0-1 hole in the first-round, best-of-seven NBA playoff series.
"Tracy is our playmaker," small forward Shane Battier said.
"He's gonna get people the ball. And we don't have too many playmakers on this team. So he usually makes the right decision.
"So if he has to go out and score 40 for us to win, he'll do it," added Battier, perhaps remembering McGrady's 47-point performance when Houston beat Utah in the Jazz's home-opener this season. "If he has to go and dish 15 assists, he'll do it."
If only it were so simple, the Jazz might not be as up as they are. Instead, Utah flustered McGrady on Saturday.
He was blanketed, and save for Battier, who shot 7-for-7 and scored a game-high 22 those left uncovered failed to adequately produce.
Fill-in point guard Bobby Jackson shot just 3-of-15. Backup Aaron Brooks was 1-for-7. Houston's benched mustered only 17 points from seven players, and the Rockets who shot only 36.7 percent from the field were outscored 50-40 in the paint.
"You're gonna have a lot of open shots when they double-team me," said McGrady, who also shot just 7-for-21 when Utah beat Houston last Monday in a rather meaningful game during the regular season's final week.
"We've just got to knock those shots down out on the perimeter.
"Our big guys have got the finish at the basket," he added. "And that's it. We had a lot of open shots that we missed."
Even if the Jazz didn't want to admit it, McGrady's disappointment was evident.
Body language spoke volumes Saturday; words Sunday were even louder.
"I don't know if he got frustrated or not, but I thought we did a good job of making him work for his shots," forward Carlos Boozer said. "I thought we did a good job of mixing up our defenses on him, giving him different looks.
"And with a great player like that that's all you can do,"
Boozer added. "You can't do the same thing over and over again."
McGrady understands and anticipates the Jazz throwing anything and everything at him tonight.
Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring may all take turns like they did in Game 1, but it won't be mere single-man coverage.
"We've got to do something," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who is quick to pull the plug in the playoffs if something, or someone, isn't working. "We can't just let him run around out there.
"To start out the second half they isolated him and played him 1-on-1," Sloan added, "and he was killing us."
So McGrady knows what's coming.
For that very reason, he vows not to be trapped into forgetting he's playing a team game.
"No, I'm never gonna force the issue and take our team out of sync," he said. "I'm just gonna do what I gotta do as far as trying to make my teammates better. Yeah, I'm gonna be aggressive, but I'm not gonna force the issue."
Rather, he puts the issue on the table for all to see and puts out a call to lost teammates.
The message: McGrady will try what he must, but he can't do it alone.
"It's just all about how the game is," he said. "If need be I need to take more shots, and be more aggressive then I'll do that.
"But that's not gonna get us anywhere if they come to double-team, and then I'm not making shots," McGrady added. "I can be as aggressive as I want to be, but if they double-team, get the ball out of my hands, and we're not making shots, we're in for a long night."
It's an issue, as he sees it, of mind over matter.
And it was evident which won Game 1, McGrady suggested.
"We've been running this offense for several months now," he said of a system employed by first-year Rockets coach Rick Adelman.
"We know where the ball should be, and how we get backcuts and how we get open shots and pindowns and all that stuff. We know that."But," McGrady added, "I think when the defense is putting pressure on you, and the stakes are much higher, the mind doesn't really function the way it needs to."
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