Rockets 107, Pistons 96
Tracy McGrady seemed to be the last one to know he would make his season debut against Detroit on Tuesday night.
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 wasn't expecting to play when he arrived at the arena. He walked into the locker room about 90 minutes before the game and his teammates said that Coach Rick Adelman had something to tell him.
``It surprised me,'' he said. ``I went in there and talked to him, he said he was going to play me about seven minutes and just try to work our way through this. Tonight was that night.''
Trevor Ariza's one-game NBA suspension for throwing a forearm at Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan Sunday gave 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 entered at the 7:44 mark of the first quarter to a standing ovation. He 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 was in and out of the lineup all of last season and played in only 35 games. He averaged 15.6 points, his lowest total in a decade and admitted that he was playing in constant pain.
He declared himself done for the season just before last year's All-Star break, then opted for the risky, season-ending microfracture surgery. Doctors estimated he would need six to 12 months to recover, and McGrady spent the summer in Chicago working with Tim Grover, who trained Michael Jordan.
He's 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 Adelman said he'll play McGrady about the same amount of time.
``He knows how to play the game, it's the little things, like when he took it to the basket and got fouled,'' Adelman said. ``Those are the types of things we are looking for and his continued effort on the defensive end. With that injury, the lateral quickness and the comfort level is not there and he's got to push himself to get to that point.''
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.
The Rockets had 23 assists after three quarters - more than they've had in 16 games this season - and led 81-68. Charlie Villanueva missed a dunk and Kyle Lowry passed to Budinger for a layup and eventual three-point play in the first minute of the fourth quarter, and Houston cruised from there.
NOTES: The teams shot a combined 6 for 37 from 3-point range. ... Brooks has scored 20 points in six of the last eight games. ... Detroit C Ben Wallace, a 53.7 percent free throw shooter, shot two air balls from the line. He went 1 for 4 on free throws for the game. ... Detroit guards Will Bynum and Ben Gordon sat out with sprained left ankles. Bynum has missed three games and Gordon the last six.