By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK - For the first 12 minutes, Tracy McGrady was back in superstar form. But the rest of the afternoon, McGrady's alumni game against his former team was impacted more by the two players the New York Knicks sent to the Houston Rockets in order to acquire McGrady and his mammoth expiring contract.
Jordan Hill, labeled a "bad rookie" by Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni is a particularly harsh pre-game comment, played the final 16:04 and scored 13 of the Rockets' 52 bench points as Houston stayed on the cusp of the Western Conference playoff race by rallying past New York 116-112 Sunday.
Jared Jeffries played all but five seconds of the fourth quarter, drawing three charges and blocking two shots in the final period as coach Rick Adelman went with his subs for most of the final quarter. Houston, ninth in the West, won for the fifth time in six games to move within five games of Portland and 5 1/2 games of seventh-place San Antonio pending the outcome of the Spurs' and Blazers' games later Sunday.
Hill claimed to feel no heightened sense of redemption in helping defeat the team that drafted him No. 8 overall last June, but his feelings might have been different if he were aware what his former coach had said about him 90 minutes before tipoff.
"I don't like to play bad rookies. I like to play good rookies," D'Antoni said, explaining that Hill was not showing enough in practice to warrant playing time ahead of the Knicks' more established frontcourt players. "I do like Jordan. I think he'll be a nice player in the league, but that's as far as it goes."
That comment was relayed afterward to Hill, who was rendered momentarily speechless.
"Didn't hear that, but what can I say? That's him," Hill said. "He's entitled to his own opinion, so if that's the way he feels, that's how he feels. I'm not trying to make a point. I'm just trying to play basketball. I just want to go out there and have fun and play my game."
Hill finished with 13 points, five rebounds and three assists while filling in for Luis Scola, who was ineffective after falling ill the previous night. The clutch player of the game was Aaron Brooks, who scored seven points in a span of 80 seconds to turn a 110-107 deficit into a 114-110 lead. Jeffries then drew a charge against Toney Douglas, and another ex-Knick, Trevor Ariza, ruined New York's final chance when he poked the ball from Douglas' hands, making it bounce off Douglas' knee and out of bounds with 13 seconds left.
"For four years I had a Knicks uniform on and played here as part of the home team, and it's different coming back here and being part of the opposing team," said Jeffries, who was packaged with Hill, a 2012 No. 1 pick and an option to swap 2011 first-round picks in the trade deadline day deal that brought McGrady to New York as part of the Knicks' master plan to clear cap space for the upcoming 2010 free-agent market.
McGrady shot 3-for-4 and scored eight points with five rebounds and an assist in the first quarter and finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
"I felt good," McGrady said. "Some nights I really don't feel good because I sit so long and tighten up, but today I had it. I don't know if it was because of the extra adrenaline, but I felt good."
Not as good, however, as Hill, Jeffries and the rest of the Rockets.