HOUSTON - Tracy McGrady was racing down the court with the ball, his eyes focused squarely on the basket and the fate of the game in his hands.
No way he was going to settle for a tie and overtime. McGrady was thinking about making a game-winning 3-pointer the whole time.
“I wanted to take my chances,” McGrady said. “At that point, I felt anything I threw up was going to go in. The rim felt really, really big.”
So McGrady let fly with a running 3 with 1.7 seconds left, capping a one-man rally in the final minute to send the Houston Rockets to an improbable 81-80 win over San Antonio on Thursday night.
McGrady scored 13 points in the final 35 seconds, including four difficult 3s, to finish with 33 points, eight rebounds and five steals in a terrific clutch performance.
“It was unbelievable,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, shaking his head. “End of story. Guys get hot.”
The sleepy-eyed, 25-year-old All-Star put on a virtuoso finish that rivaled any of the top last-second efforts in the league record books.
McGrady’s amazing display inevitably brought back memories of Reggie Miller’s career-defining moment against the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1995. Miller scored eight straight points in the final 8.9 seconds of Indiana’s 107-105 win.
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, an assistant coach for the Knicks then, was even stumped for a comparison to McGrady’s fourth-quarter flourish.
“Sometimes when you work, you get miracles,” he said.
The Spurs lost their second straight, a night after a tough defeat against Seattle in San Antonio.
This loss, however, may be much harder for the Spurs to swallow.
“They played a great last 50 seconds ... Tracy did,” said a sullen Tim Duncan. “They found a way to win and it was a tough loss for us.”
With just over a minute left in what seemed to be another ugly home loss, the Rockets were being roundly booed following Bob Sura’s airball on a 3-point attempt with Houston trailing 74-64.
By that time, much of the crowd of 16,170 at Toyota Center had cleared. The rest were heading for the exits.
Then, Yao Ming followed McGrady’s miss on a layup, Scott Padgett stole an inbounds pass and went in for a dunk and the Rockets were finally within striking distance. McGrady completed a four-point play with 24.3 seconds left to pull Houston within 78-75.
Duncan hit two free throws to give San Antonio an 80-75 lead, but McGrady quickly responded with a leaping, 3-pointer over Bruce Bowen with 11.2 seconds to go.
San Antonio called a timeout, but Devin Brown slipped and fumbled away the ball under the basket on the next possession. McGrady stole the ball away on his way to the game-winning 27-footer.
“I haven’t seen anybody do something like that before,” Brown said of McGrady. “He was just hitting shot after shot. He was fantastic.”
McGrady was mobbed by teammates near midcourt, while red-and-white confetti poured from the roof. The Spurs watched the celebration then walked off the court in stunned silence.
“I swear, I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” McGrady said. “That was like the best feeling to me, just to have my teammates embrace me and just jumping on me like that. That was a great feeling.”
Then, he smiled.
“For all those fans who left the game early ... ya’ll missed a great game,” he said.
Yao had 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Rockets, who had no one else score more than five points.
Duncan finished with 26 points and 18 rebounds, and Brown had 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, but the Spurs fell apart down the stretch in what was a huge collapse by one of the NBA’s best teams.
“On a normal team, you might expect that to happen,” Brown said. “But in San Antonio, we know what we have to do and for whatever reason it just didn’t happen. It’s very frustrating.”
Notes: San Antonio tied its season low for points, shooting just 34 percent. The Rockets also held the Spurs to 12 first-quarter points, the lowest total they’ve held an opponent to in that quarter this season. ... The Spurs had won 21 of the previous 23 games coming in. ... Yao scored 20 points or more for the third straight time, a first for this season this season. ... Rockets F Ryan Bowen made his second start of the season, going scoreless in 22 minutes. ... The Rockets set a season high with a free-throw percentage of 94.7. They made 18 of 19 attempts.
PBT: The Spurs saw the NBA title slip through their fingers Tuesday night. Do they have it in them to rebound from their meltdown in time for Game 7?
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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