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Rockets-Jazz: Of T-Mac, Time and Fate

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Daniel Kramer

The first rule of show business: Always leave them wanting more.

Too bad this isn’t Hollywood. For if it were, Tracy McGrady would surely have the whole world at his size 16 feet today.

Instead, he’s left with nothing but another round of mixed reviews and heated debate over his latest postseason performance: an all-for-naught near triple double that couldn’t prevent the Rockets from losing Game 2 to Utah, 90-84.

Do you focus on his box-score stuffing 23 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks? Or are you only interested in his single, solitary fourth quarter point? Maybe your answer doesn’t even matter. Perhaps most telling of all is that, for many fans and critics, the reaction to T-Mac’s virtuoso first three quarters was not “What a show!” but rather “Why can’t he do this more often?”

Such is the burden of Tracy McGrady.

The man is so gifted, so supremely talented, it often seems as if basketball immortality is simply his for the taking, available anytime, if only he would choose to reach out with his pterodactyl wingspan and grab it with those Jordanesque hands.

Of course, it’s never that easy; especially for someone so bedeviled by the Fates it sometimes seems as if Shakespeare himself returned to conjure one final tragic character. One wonders: Is it Tracy McGrady or Tracy Macbeth? Fair is foul, and foul is fair.

Always, always, some evil lurks to steal away the greatness that seems his birthright. In this case, he was undone by his familiar nemesis—an over-matched supporting cast— a relatively new one—Father Time—and, like every other tragic Shakespearean character, himself.

Let’s address the supporting cast first. Through the first two games of this series, Houston’s point guards have combined for 8 assists. Rafer Alston never looked so good to Rockets fans. Also problematic: Luis Scola’s mysterious inability to convert around the basket. The Rookie of the Year candidate is one of the few Rockets capable of providing easy buckets inside. So it’s no surprise Houston faces an 0-2 hole when one takes a gander at Scola’s ghastly sub-.400 field goal percentage. Then, of course, there’s the bench battle which isn’t even a mismatch at this point. It’s simply no contest, with Utah’s super subs crushing Houston’s super duds 54-32.

Still, Game 2 was there for the taking; primarily due to McGrady’s superhuman opening 36 minutes. For three quarters, he appeared to have discovered the fountain of youth or, at least, Doc’s DeLorean, showing off the sort of burst and explosiveness reminiscent of the T-Mac of old. Then the fourth quarter arrived and he simply became old T-Mac. Hey, that’s usually what happens when an 11-year NBA vet is asked to carry an entire team on his back.

At this stage of his career, McGrady and the Rockets would probably be best-served by giving T-Mac the Manu Ginobili treatment and limiting him to 30 minutes per game. But that’s obviously not an option right now. As Houston’s only real weapon, McGrady must take up his burden until the battle is over.

But will he? Does he have it in him to continue waging war against a clearly superior opponent which has managed to pin him down and press its blade against his jugular? Fatigue is one thing. Accepting one’s ill fate with nothing more than a mere shoulder shrug is another.

It is at this point where the debate which perpetually envelopes the enigmatic McGrady gets most vicious. He’s been labeled “soft” “and “spineless,” by his own fans no less. Such characterizations are patently unfair, yet there’s something about T-Mac which seems to attract them by the bundle. No doubt he’s an easy target. The first-round failures, the sleepy eyes, his predilection for pull-up jumpers… It’s all fair game. But is it fair? Does it even matter?

As the Bard would say: What's done cannot be undone.

The show must go on. - Jason Friedman

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