HOUSTON (AP) – Tracy McGrady won his matchup with Paul Pierce, and the Houston Rockets got a much-needed victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.

McGrady tied his season high with 35 points in the Rockets’ 91-73 victory, only Houston’s second win in its last 10 games.

Pierce, averaging 27 points coming into the game, scored 20 for the Celtics, who have lost three of five. Pierce hit all 13 of his free throws, but went 3-for-10 from the field.

Houston center Yao Ming had 12 points and nine rebounds, despite being cut over his right eye in a fourth-quarter collision with Boston forward Brian Scalabrine. Yao briefly went to the locker room, then came back a few minutes later with a bandage protecting the injury.

McGrady also had seven rebounds and five assists, showing no signs of the back injury that sidelined him for eight of Houston’s first 14 games. McGrady also scored 35 in a 99-91 win over New Jersey on Nov. 11.

Pierce and McGrady guarded each other most of the night. McGrady had 16 points in the first half, while Pierce had 11.

The All-Star matchup became a total mismatch in the third quarter.

Pierce shot an airball, then lost the ball to Ryan Bowen in the first two minutes. After the turnover, McGrady hit a fadeaway jumper over Pierce on the baseline.

Pierce charged into McGrady with 8:30 left and went to the bench with his fourth foul. McGrady immediately sank a jumper over Justin Reed, reaching 20 points for the sixth time in eight games.

The Rockets pushed their 10-point halftime lead to 17 as the Celtics missed seven of their first nine shots after the break.

Boston looked better with Pierce on the bench. Delonte West sank a 3-pointer and drove past Stromile Swift for a layup during an 8-0 run that cut the Rockets’ lead to 61-54.

Houston rebuilt its edge to 11 by the fourth quarter, leading after three for the sixth time this season. The Rockets had blown two of those leads, but McGrady made sure it wouldn’t happen this time.

He scored twice in the first minute of the quarter, prompting Boston coach Doc Rivers to send Pierce to the scorers’ table.

The move didn’t work.

McGrady sank two 3-pointers over Ricky Davis and blocked Pierce on a driving layup as Houston’s lead swelled to 76-61.

Pierce swished a 3-pointer over McGrady with 7:06 to go, but the Rockets still led by 12 and cruised from there.

The Celtics finished 23-of-67 from the field (34 percent). Raef LaFrentz, who sank seven 3-pointers and scored 32 in Boston’s 102-82 win over Houston on Nov. 13, went 0-for-6 in the rematch.

Notes: Jon Barry, who sat out Houston’s last three games with a bruised left foot, played only two minutes before getting hurt again. Barry entered with 2:59 left in the opening quarter, then strained his right calf with 1:01 remaining and didn’t return. … Two Celtics who jumped to the NBA out of high school were close to home. Kendrick Perkins played at Ozen High School in Beaumont, about 50 miles away, and rookie forward Gerald Green starred at Gulf Shores Academy in Houston. … The Rockets waived guard Dion Glover, who’d been sidelined since training camp with a right knee injury.

AP-ES-12-06-05 2325EST


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