McGrady scored 31 points in only 27 minutes to lead the Houston Rockets to a 94-68 rout of the bad-shooting Hawks.
The six-time All-Star was playing his third game since missing the previous seven with the back injury. He received treatment last week from Dr. John Patterson, a rehabilitation specialist who's worked on Terrell Owens and tennis star Andy Roddick, among others.
"It's a process," said McGrady, who made 13 of 18 shots. "Each game, I'm feeling better physically, mentally. It's going to take a little bit of time to get where I want to be, but it seems like it's coming around."
Juwan Howard added 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, and Dikembe Mutombo grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds as the Rockets won for the second time in three games since Yao Ming broke a bone under his right knee. Yao is out at least six weeks.
McGrady took over the game with an 18-point second quarter, then left in the third with a minor thumb injury. Atlanta rookie Solomon Jones slapped his hand on a drive, but McGrady was smiling a few minutes later as trainer Keith Jones wrapped tape around his left thumb. McGrady said after the game that his thumb was OK.
McGrady missed 35 games with back problems last season. Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy gave him a pep talk this week, telling him to have more fun and not put so much pressure on himself to be the player he used to be.
McGrady took it to heart.
"The way I've been feeling in the past, it seems like that door of opportunity is closing on me," said the 27-year-old McGrady, in his 10th NBA season. "I'm just enjoying the moment."
The Rockets hardly needed McGrady or Yao against the Hawks, who've lost six in a row and 10 of their last 11.
Atlanta shot 35 percent (25-of-72) from the field and went 0-for-11 from 3-point range.
"We can't find any offense," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I thought we came out ready tonight and we had good shots. We just didn't make them."
Josh Childress scored 15 to lead the Hawks, who've averaged 75 points in their last three games.
"There's no scientific thing about it," Childress said. "You've got to make shots. We're even missing layups. That just physically and mentally drains you. I wish there was a pill we could take to make us more confident."
The Hawks missed 13 of their first 18 shots and trailed 20-14 after the first quarter.
The Rockets started the second quarter with a 12-3 spurt to take control. After Johnson scored on a driving layup to end the run, McGrady sank a 3-pointer from the wing, a fadeaway from the baseline and a driving layup in a 60-second span.
A minute later, McGrady drove to the basket and went down after he was fouled by Speedy Claxton. McGrady got up slowly, grabbing his back, then split two free throws. He stayed in the game and bent over in obvious pain during a dead ball, but then swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key a few seconds later.
"Every time I get hit hard, I've got to gather myself to make sure everything is OK," McGrady said.
McGrady had 26 at halftime -- more than he'd scored in all but three games this season -- and the Rockets led 46-32.
McGrady drained a 3-pointer a minute into the second half, then posted up Johnson for another fadeaway to put Houston up by 19.
"When he attacks, good things happen," said Houston forward Shane Battier.
Battier added a 3-pointer -- his 11th in Houston's last three games -- after McGrady's two baskets to push the lead past 20.
Jones hit McGrady's thumb with 5:35 left in the third quarter. McGrady missed both free throws that followed Jones' foul, then went to the bench for the night.
The Rockets stayed in command without him.
Mutombo grabbed 11 rebounds in the third quarter -- one more than his season high -- and Howard picked up the scoring void left by McGrady, scoring 11.
Houston led 75-46 heading to the fourth quarter.
Earlier this season, the Rockets held Charlotte to 62 points, a franchise record-low for an opponent. Royal Ivey scored on a drive with 1:41 left to get Atlanta to 64.
- Houston G/F Bonzi Wells sat out with a back injury. Wells, signed on Oct. 2, has missed 19 of Houston's 30 games.
- Hawks C/F Lorenzen Wright sat out with a left calf injury.
- Slava Medvedenko did not score in his first action since signing with Atlanta on Thursday.
- Hawks G Tyronn Lue missed his sixth straight game with a groin injury.