McGrady makes season debut in Rockets' win
Tracy McGrady had been testing his surgically repaired left knee in practice for weeks, so finally making his season debut was the easy part.
The seven-time All-Star sank a 3-pointer in his first game since Feb. 9, Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks scored 23 points apiece and the Houston Rockets snapped the Pistons' five-game winning streak with a 107-96 win.
McGrady entered at the 7:44 mark of the first quarter to a standing ovation, an emotional moment he says will rank as one of the most memorable of his career.
He underwent microfracture surgery last February and worried that his NBA career might be over. Now, he thinks it's just a matter of time until he's the versatile, high-scoring player he used to be.
``It just felt good to be out there and just accepted by the fans the way they did,'' said McGrady, who played almost eight minutes, all in the first quarter. ``Knowing what I went through last year, knowing what I had to do this offseason to get back to even play basketball, so far, it feels good that I'm able to know that I can go back on the court and hopefully soon, be myself again.
Trevor Ariza's one-game NBA suspension for throwing a forearm at Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan Sunday gave Houston coach Rick Adelman a chance to start rookie Chase Budinger and bring McGrady off the bench for his first action in 10 months.
Budinger had 16 points and 12 rebounds in his first career start and reserve Carl Landry added 19 points for the Rockets, who shot a season-high 54.7 percent (41 of 75) from the field.
McGrady missed his first shot, a 20-footer from the wing, then swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key for his only basket. He sat out the last three quarters.
``It's been so long since I've played, it was just a great feeling to be back on the court,'' McGrady said. ``Just to get up and down the court with these guys and to be back out there competing is what I missed. To have that back, finally, and feel good and have fun doing it, there's nothing better.''
McGrady has been saying since training camp that he was ``ahead of schedule'' and he returned to practice on Nov. 23. He said the knee was no concern on Tuesday and he wasn't fatigued after his limited appearance.
``My practices have been harder than what that was out there,'' McGrady said. ``That's what made it a lot easier, just being able to go hard in practice, playing some of these guys after practice 1-on-1, doing some of the things I wasn't capable of doing last season. It's all just coming back naturally to me.''
The Rockets play in Denver on Wednesday and McGrady expects to play about the same amount of time. Adelman has promised to keep McGrady on a cautious schedule and McGrady is content with that.
``Whatever it takes for me to get back on the court, I'm all for it,'' he said.
Richard Hamilton had 21 points and Rodney Stuckey shook off a bad start to score 17 for the Pistons, who had averaged 99.6 points during their win streak. Detroit shot poorly most of the night, while the Rockets were a season-best 60 percent in the first half (21 of 35) and held a double-digit lead for most of the second.
While McGrady took the early spotlight, Scola was the best player in the first quarter, scoring 11 points to lead Houston to a 29-19 lead. The Rockets shot 67 percent (12 of 18) from the field in the quarter and Houston stretched the lead to 15 early in the second.
Hamilton hit seven of his first eight shots, but the rest of the Pistons started 7 for 26 from the field. Stuckey, averaging 23 points in Detroit's previous nine games, missed nine of his first 10 shots.