“It’s on me.”
That was the emphatic declaration made by Tracy McGrady before Game 1 of the Rockets’ series with Utah. Often accused of being a front-runner and criticized for his inability to lead teammates to the promised land (or even the second round), T-Mac let it be known he not only accepted full responsibility for the Rockets’ success or failure, but that he also embraced the challenge. Now that we’re headed toward a decisive Game 7, the entire NBA will be watching to see if Tracy is finally ready to back up that tough talk.
To be sure, McGrady can’t win Saturday’s tilt by himself. Utah will certainly do everything it can to get the ball out of his hands, which means Rafer, Luther and Shane need to hit the open threes that come their way. Yao needs to stop turning it over ten times a game. And Chuck Hayes and Juwan Howard… well, no need to ask for miracles. Their usual hustle and spunk will suffice.
But make no mistake, this series is, was and always has been about T-Mac. Will he summon his inner MJ, or shrink beneath the spotlight like Dirk Nowitzki? (By the way, how uncomfortable is his MVP presentation going to be? On the plus side, all the so-called experts who voted for Dirk over Steve Nash should be feeling just as sheepish as Nowitzki this morning). This is what you wanted, Tracy. The floor is yours. It’s all on you. Show us what you’ve got.
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P.S. One final basketball note heading into the weekend: The NBA Finals are starting about a month early this year. That’s right: Game One takes place this Sunday when San Antonio travels to Phoenix to take on the Suns. I’ll be shocked if this series doesn’t go the distance and there’s not a doubt in my mind that the team left standing will be lifting the O’Brien trophy this June. I can’t wait. – Jason Friedman