The McGrady Miracle: An overlooked piece of Houston sports history

McGrady scored 13 points in the final 36 seconds of regulation to seal the win against the Spurs on Dec. 9, 2004. | Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

It’s Dec. 9, 2004 and a 10-year-old me is taking in the waning minutes of a Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs game. For the 12th time in the season it appears my beloved Rockets are going to lose as the network goes to commercials for what should be the final time of the night.

The Rockets are currently 8–11 and it seems as though trading for the two-time scoring champion Tracy McGrady over the offseason is not panning out the way it was supposed to.

It’s just my second year of watching the team, but I’m frustrated as the game winds down.

My older brother, Ryan, is also a new fan and has seen enough of our team on this night. With the Rockets trailing the Spurs 74–64 with 62 seconds remaining, it seems like the perfect time to get a jump on bedtime preparations.

“I’m going to shower,” he says.

With Ryan having first dibbs on the shower, I am forced to watch the final minute of the game as it is returning from the commercial break.

In front of a now half-empty Toyota Center, the Rockets inbound the ball and McGrady drives to the hole, misses a lay-up, but it’s quickly cleaned up by 7-foot-6 Yao Ming.

This will be McGrady’s last miss of the night as the Spurs’ lead is trimmed to 74–66.

The ensuing inbound place is immediately intercepted by Rockets’ forward Scott Padgett who slams home the wide open dunk to put the score at 74–68. A golf clap resounds among the fans who opted not to try and beat the post-game traffic.

“Well, at least the score will look respectable,” I think to myself.

San Antonio calls a timeout to regroup, in bounds the ball and is quickly fouled in order to keep the clock stopped. After making both free throws, the Spurs once again are comfortably ahead 76–68 with 44.2 seconds left in regulation.

It was then that McGrady took matters into his own hands.

Demanding the ball, McGrady wastes no time in dribbling up the floor and draining a three over one of the league’s top defenders in Bruce Bowen. Now 76–71 with 35 seconds left, fans begin to appreciate the effort, but likely still don’t imagine a win coming of this.

Not showing an ounce of quit, the Rockets immediately foul the Spurs to which they drain both of the free throws yet again.

Spurs lead 78–71 with 31.9 remaining.

After the makes, McGrady brings the ball up and uses a pick by Yao to give himself some space on the perimeter. Yao’s man, Duncan, switches on to McGrady and falls for a pump fake.

McGrady has made a living off of this move and he maneuvers his body into Duncan’s on his descent back to the floor, draws the foul and drains the three-pointer. After making the free throw the score is 78–75 and I imagine this is the exact moment all who left early began to get sick to their stomach.

With 24.3 left to play, the improbable comeback is seeming as though it could actually happen, although still highly unlikely.

Entering the living room to a wave of excitement, Ryan returns from his shower with newly peaked interest.

I explain what has happened to the best of a fourth grader’s ability and lock in for the finish.

The Spurs inbound the ball and look rattled. Although well coached, the team is playing sloppy either out of frustration, panic or a combination of both. Regardless, the Rockets foul and the Spurs knock down both foul shots, again.

They now lead 80–75 with 16.2 left to play, but that would be all of the scoring for the team from San Antonio on this night.

Houston guard Andre Barrett is set to throw the ball in for the next possession.

San Antonio is beginning to realize that McGrady is heating up and they implement a double team to prevent him from catching the inbound pass.

Barrett is running out of time to make a decision and with no timeouts remaining he is forced to throw the ball to McGrady in the double team. McGrady rises up, catches the ball and heads for his favorite spot on the perimeter.

With Bowen draped all over him, McGrady pulls up for three.

“Surely this one isn’t in,” I think.

The ball flies through the air for what seems like minutes.

“Yes, yes!” commentator Marv Alberts exclaims.

The new Rockets shooting guard has just hit his third three in the last 20 seconds and cut the Spurs lead to 80–78 with 11.2 remaining on the clock.

Understandably so, head coach Greg Popovich calls the Spurs final timeout. Upon returning to action, the team will inbound and try to make two free throws in order to seal the deal.

The Spurs get the ball to Devon Brown who is 7-for-7 from the free throw line tonight and will be looked upon to sink two more. Before the Rockets can foul, Brown trips and loses the ball along the baseline and watches in horror as it rolls into the hands of McGrady with eight seconds remaining.

Having no timeouts remaining, it’s now or never for the Rockets. With no time to waste McGrady traverses three-fourths of the court and opts to go for the win. Shooting while still moving towards the basket, the Toyota Center and my living room go silent.

“McGrady for the win… Yes!” Alberts shouts.

In what was one of the most improbably comebacks in history, McGrady just earned his team an 81–80 victory to the astonishment of Popovich on the sideline.

The man of the hour is tackled at half court by teammates who know they just witnessed a miracle.

Although it’s not widely talked about, I believe this is one of the single most impressive feats in basketball history.

As a young boy this molded my passion for sports and showed me why you can never write someone off whether in sports or life.

I’m just thankful my brother took the first shower.

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