Gasol hits four free throws down stretch to lift Grizzlies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Darko Milicic was a force on defense, and even brought some offense to the table.

Milicic scored 20 points and hounded Houston's Yao Ming, Pau Gasol had 26, and the Memphis Grizzlies weathered a 41-point performance from Tracy McGrady to beat the Houston Rockets 105-96 Tuesday night.

"I used to play offense before I came here," Milicic said with a laugh. "Then I became a defensive [player]."

His contributions Tuesday were on both ends of the floor. Milicic was 9-of-14 from the floor, and while Yao scored 22 points, he had to work for them.

"You can't do much about a guy like [Yao], as tall as he is and with the skills he has," Milicic said. "I was just trying to front him, and when he got the ball down low, trying to make it difficult for him."

"We went after Yao a little bit and made him work on both ends," said Grizzlies guard Mike Miller, who finished with 17 points. "That was part of our game plan, and the guys did a good job."

Free throws were the difference in the game, as Memphis connected on eight straight in the final two minutes after Houston tied the game at 97. Memphis scored 34 points from the line, compared to 17 for the Rockets, who had their 3-game winning streak snapped.

"We scored 98, and that's OK for us," Yao said. "But when you let them score 105, we had problems on defense. I didn't guard Darko Milicic well in the post, and Pau Gasol got 17 free throws. Those are the keys right there."

After McGrady's 41 and 22 from Yao, the only other Rocket in double figures was reserve Mike James with 10.

"What we have to do is find a way to get more people involved on offense," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "We need more balance than we are getting."

The Rockets could never get the lead to double digits at any point through three quarters, and Memphis overtook Houston entering the final stanza.

The Grizzlies extended the advantage to as many as eight in the early stages of the fourth quarter, fueled by an 8-2 run. Milicic and Stromile Swift recorded blocks, and Memphis built its lead while going inside as McGrady got his final rest before the stretch run.

After Memphis built the lead to 94-85, McGrady, who entered the game with about 7 minutes left, hit a 3-pointer and a layup. His drive tied the score at 97 with 2:10 left.

Free throws by Kyle Lowry and Gasol gave Memphis a six-point lead with under a minute to play. Miller's two free throws with 7.4 left were the final margin.

Houston entered the game as the league's second-best rebounding team, averaging 46.7, but Memphis controlled the boards 44-36, including eight by Lowry and seven from Miller.

"We got some big defensive rebounds down the stretch," said Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni, who notched his first home win as the Grizzlies coach. "Tip-outs that we came up with the ball where everybody was fighting for it. It got a little crazy there."

The Rockets led 53-49 at halftime behind 22 points from McGrady. But Memphis was getting a surprising offensive contribution from Milicic, who not only had 11 points in the opening period, but drew a pair of early fouls against Yao. Milicic, along with fellow 7-footer Gasol, scored 13 points apiece for Memphis, which took its first lead on a 3-pointer from Juan Carlos Navarro with just under 5 minutes left before the break.

"We played really well as a combo, and [Milicic] played a real good game offensively and defensively on Yao. I thought his effort was really good," Gasol said. "...When you have a threat inside other than myself, then the defense has to adjust to it. He made a presence of himself early on."

Game notes
Memphis remains the only team in the Southwest Division with a losing record. ... The Rockets swept all four games against the Grizzlies last season. ... With 26 points, Gasol now has 64 straight double-figure scoring performances, fifth among active players. ... Memphis reserve G Tarence Kinsey, who had played only 2 minutes all season, entered the game in the first quarter as one of several defenders trying to contain McGrady. ...The Rockets got a bit of a scare with 2:14 left in the first half when McGrady came up hobbling after banging his right knee with another player. He returned to the game after a 20-second timeout, but was flexing and grimacing the rest of the half. He played the rest of the game, logging a team-high 36 minutes. "I put some ice on it [at halftime]," he said, "and the pain went down. I felt good after that."