MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Tracy McGrady scored 25 points and made three consecutive clutch plays down the stretch to lead the Houston Rockets to a 94-89 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

McGrady, who went 13-for-13 at the free-throw line, grabbed eight rebounds and had 13 points in the fourth quarter. He hit a long jumper over Trenton Hassell with 2:35 remaining to put Houston up for good, 85-84, after trailing most of the night.

After Wally Szczerbiak missed a shot on the other end, McGrady zipped a pretty pass from the top of the key to give Rafer Alston – who had beaten Troy Hudson on a backdoor cut – an easy layup with 2:04 left.

Then Hassell’s risky crosscourt pass was stolen by McGrady on the following possession to seal a much-needed victory for the Rockets, who had lost four of their previous five games.

Kevin Garnett led Minnesota with 25 points, and Wally Szczerbiak scored 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting.

McGrady returned from a bout with back spasms to score 30 of his 35 points in the second half of a win at New Jersey on Saturday. He was held to 14 points the next night in a 20-point loss at Boston.

The first half wasn’t so smooth for McGrady, who shot only 1-for-6 and had four turnovers over the first 24 minutes. But he came through when his team needed him most.

Houston was without its All-Star for three games, but the effort has been lethargic most of the season. Asked before tipoff for his thoughts on the NBA’s installation of the daily, three-player inactive list, Van Gundy quipped, “We’ve been a team on the inactive list. It hasn’t been three guys. It’s been 15.”

Though still far from perfect, this was certainly a better performance for a team that Van Gundy called “Rockets gone wild” last week.

The Wolves, who lost at home for the first time in four tries, wanted to push the ball and exploit Houston’s lack of speed, but they seemed to get bogged down by their opponent’s slow pace at times and never could break away.

McGrady made three free throws with 9:36 left to give the Rockets their first lead, 74-71. Stromile Swift hit a jumper on the next possession to push the lead to five.

Though the Rockets never led in the first half, they tied it at 39 on a three-point play by Yao with 3:13 left before the break.

But Minnesota closed the second quarter with an 8-0 run, and Houston showed some of the sloppiness that it’s been hounded by during this frustrating start to the season. McGrady had three of his team’s five turnovers during that stretch, the first coming on a risky pass that was intercepted by Hassell at midcourt and taken the other way for a three-point play when McGrady fouled him during a layup.

Garnett finished the spurt with a shot-clock beating 21-footer, giving the Wolves a 47-39 lead.

Notes: Announced attendance was 14,091. The Wolves entered the game ranked second-to-last in the league with an average of 14,594. … Houston rookie Luther Head, who got 29 minutes in Saturday’s game against New Jersey, didn’t play.

AP-ES-11-15-05 2251EST


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