Rockets stop Thunder, 100-89

Tracy McGrady feels like he’s back to square one with a troublesome left knee that gave out on him again. At least his Houston Rockets seem able to pick up the slack if he’s going to be sidelined.

Luis Scola scored 23 points, Yao Ming added 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Houston made a second-half surge without its injured seven-time All-Star to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-89 on Monday night.

Offseason pickup Ron Artest also had an injury scare, but the Rockets still had enough firepower to hand the tumbling Thunder their eighth straight loss.

“We have depth. We have guys that we trust and guys that really can play. They went out there and we all played together, kept fighting hard and sustained a lead and came away with the victory,” point guard Rafer Alston said.

McGrady left the game in the opening minute of the second half after aggravating his left knee, which was operated on this offseason to have loose bodies removed. He didn’t return.

“Tonight I went back to square one, even before surgery, is how my knee is feeling right now,” McGrady said.

The two-time NBA scoring champion came in averaging only 16.7 points and left after scoring eight points in the first half. Even without him, the Rockets were still able to mount a 14-3 run powered by Scola and Yao to start the second half.

Artest extended the lead to 77-58 when he stepped behind Kevin Durant’s back to knock the ball away and set himself up for a right-handed dunk.

All McGrady could do was watch from the bench, where he draped a towel across his shoulders. He planned to have an MRI on Tuesday.

“I want to play, man. I want to play. Just to get off to this start, for me personally this is a bad start,” McGrady said. “To have to play your way through an injury that I’ve never had before and a surgery that was my first surgery is very frustrating. My game is really based on athleticism, and that’s something that I don’t have right now.”

Yao and Artest both thought they’d be OK after joining McGrady on the bench late in the game. Artest was hurt on a drive to the basket in the final minute, and he ended up clutching his right ankle in a group of photographers on the baseline.

He remained in the training room for a while after the game before limping heavily on his way to his locker.

“People sprain their ankles all the time,” said Artest, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. “It’s not broke.”

Yao left with 3:29 to play after a hook shot that gave Houston a 94-78 lead.

The injury song sounds all too familiar to Rockets faithful, who’ve watched Yao miss a year’s worth of games over the last three seasons because of various injuries and McGrady get dinged up, too.

“We don’t need all of them hurt. Sometimes teams with three players like that, you may deal with one maybe having an injury because injuries are part of the game,” Alston said. “But to have three of them down? We need these guys to be healthy.”

The Rockets still were able to withstand a 14-3 run by Oklahoma City that closed the deficit to 82-74 on Russell Westbrook’s basket inside with 10:42 to play. Yao started a six-point spurt with a hook shot in the lane, and the lead was back to 16 when he hit another one before leaving.

Durant had 29 points to lead the Thunder, Jeff Green scored 16 and Westbrook added 14 points. Oklahoma City has lost eight in a row for only the 10th time in franchise history. That includes an 0-8 start and a 14-game losing streak later last season in Seattle. They’re now 1-10 this season.

“We just have to put two halves together. Tonight we played a great first half and not a very good second half,” Green said.

McGrady said before the season that the knee was healing slower than he had hoped, and that it would likely be a month into the season before he was back at full speed. He was still about two weeks shy of that point when it failed him again.

“I’ve never had any relief because I’ve just been trying to work my way into playing shape and strengthen my leg. I’ve never been 100 percent,” McGrady said. “I’ve just been trying to play, hoping that playing on it will take me over the edge and I don’t have any more pain. It hasn’t worked in my favor.”

McGrady said he was told he’d be pulled right back out of the game if he was seen limping, and he didn’t think he’d be able to play without doing that.

“It’s sharp pain,” McGrady said. “It almost just seems like I never had surgery. I’m feeling the same pain.”

Yao was able to find a silver lining to all the injuries from the past few years.

“I have experience in this,” Yao said. “I know how to take care of my body.”


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