Wow, wow, wow... and for good measure, WOW!
In Game 1 of their much anticipated first round playoff series, Tracy McGrady was the star, hitting 14 of 27 shots for 34 points as the Rockets stunned the Mavs, floored Mark Cuban and forced a sellout Dallas crowd to leave stunned, winning the series opener, 98-86.
The Rockets now hold the homecourt edge, up 1-0 in the series.
I can not describe McGrady's performance. Yao Ming was sloppy, foul-prone and not much of a factor, but that refused to slow down T-Mac.
He scored on three-point plays. He drained triples. He knocked down a fadeaway 25-foot bomb with two guys in his face. He threw down two different nasty facial dunks on Shawn Bradley and Erick Dampier. He was called on to defend Dallas' best player. He was, simply put, sensational and the chief reason that the Rockets are not down 0-1 right now in this series (Lets face it: They would have been last season, right Steve?).
As awesome as T-Mac was, it's not to say that he didn't get some much-needed help.
The Rockets were supposed to get steamrolled by Dirk Nowitzki, but Jeff Van Gundy's game plan in Game 1 was perfect. He caught counterpart Avery Johnson flat-footed in starting Ryan Bowen, who hounded Big Dirk all night. Bowen played 31 minutes and you won't see much in that box of his, but he helped hold Dirk to 5 of 19 shooting and you can not say enough great things about his role in that.
Speaking of Johnson, the Mavs coach didn't adjust until Dallas was down 39-20 in the second quarter, pulling his center to run with a smaller lineup. It indeed had an impact in getting the Mavs back in the game as they whittled a 19-point deficit to 4 in the fourth quarter.
But the Rockets didn't fold. Mike James and Jon Barry hit big shots. With 5:57 left, Jon Barry hit a cold-blooded three (his second in the fourth quarter), putting the Rockets up 11, and right then and there I had a Barrygasm. It was an ice-in-his-veins shot and the Mavs never got too much closer after that.
James was another hero, coming off the bench to hit some huge buckets, several of the which he launched with Maverick defenders right in his face. He finished 7-13 from the floor for 16 points and was one cool customer on this night.
Props also go out to David Wesley, who had the unenviable task of guarding Michael Finley and Jerry Stackhouse. Despite giving up height in both matchups, Wesley helped keep Finley to 2-8 shooting and Stackhouse to 4-13. Wesley also hit 4-6 shots himself, including the only trifecta attempt that he took.
While Yao was, what I would call, "sloppy", picking up a lot of fouls and fumbling passes, he still had 11 points and 8 boards. He also had one series that was a positive impact in the fourth, blocking a shot and then hitting a 12-foot baseline hook on the other end. Yet, Dampier is challenging him (the Mavs center said before the game that he is a better center than Yao) and Yao didn't rise to the occasion. He also shot just 40% against the Mavs in the regular season, which doesn't bode well for this matchup -- he will have to step up for the Rockets to win three more games in this series.
And that is why Dikembe Mutombo has been so incredible this season. He comes in to play more minutes than Yao in the biggest NBA game of Yao's career, and provides a strong defensive and rebounding presence. I'll say it again: The Rockets must keep Mutombo next season or they take a large step back. He has been quite possibly the most critical addition to this team, outside of T-Mac.
Still, the Rockets have to relish stealing this one for a moment before resuming focus on Game 2. Houston is not a particularly strong home team, so "stealing homecourt advantage" isn't as huge as it has been for Rocket teams in years past.