When the Knicks looked at the Rockets Sunday, they saw several things they lost: lottery-pick rookie Jordan Hill, almost $10 million in salaries, and a game.
And the key to it all was Jared Jeffries.
The former Knick's contract was the motivation behind Donnie Walsh's decision to include Hill in the blockbuster trade with the Rockets and Kings at last month's deadline. Jeffries drew four charges in the fourth quarter of the Rockets' 116-112 win over the Knicks at the Garden.
The final one came with 49.7 seconds left on a drive by Toney Douglas with the Knicks trailing 114-110. "I know that's what Jared does,'' said Douglas, who went up against Jeffries plenty this season before the trade.
Douglas, who scored a career-high 26 points, was having one of the best games of his rookie season until the final three minutes. He banked in a three-pointer with 4:37 left to put the Knicks up 109-105. But Jeffries twice slid in front of him for charges in the final 2:29, and Douglas also lost the ball off his leg on a drive with 13.3 seconds left.
His Knicks draft classmate, Hill, had a career-high 13 points and five rebounds in 25:25.
Danilo Gallinari also had 26 points for the Knicks (25-45) and played some incredibly tight defense down the stretch against Aaron Brooks. But despite being closed off to the basket, Houston's water-bug guard managed to hit a killer pull-up with 1:19 left to give the Rockets a 114-110 lead.
Tracy McGrady played 32:51, his third-highest total of the season, against his former team. He had 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists and shot 6-for-11 from the floor.
After playing the entire first quarter, he hit his usual 25-minute quota by the third. Then McGrady, who hadn't exceeded 30 minutes in the previous seven games and rarely played down the stretch, told Mike D'Antoni he wanted back in late in the fourth. He checked in with 4:55 left and missed his three shots.
"Today was just, I don't know, not sure if it was adrenaline,'' McGrady said of his rare extended action.
Was it due to the opponent? "It helps,'' he said.
It was McGrady's first game against his former team since the Feb. 18 trade sent him to the Knicks. McGrady had been in team-ordered exile since Dec. 28, when the Rockets said they would begin to explore trades for the former All-Star.
Rick Adelman battled with McGrady the last two seasons, but before the game, the Rockets' coach shot down the idea that there had been a falling out.
"There's no falling out,'' Adelman said. "I don't know where that came from. Maybe he feels that way. If he could have played and he could have helped us, I would have played him. I don't know any coach, why would you not want to win games?''
Adelman said McGrady, who will be a free agent this summer, still could be a dominant player "if he gets his explosiveness back and his quickness back where he can get around people.''
He added that McGrady is "still one of the best passers in the league and he's still one of the best playmakers in the league. He just needs to get that leg going to where he can actually get by people. His basketball IQ is way up there.''
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