CHICAGO -- Tracy McGrady was tired, tight, and couldn't shake his defender. He was feeling much better by the time the fourth quarter started.
"I knew I was going to take over," McGrady said.
"I couldn't seem to get going, physically," McGrady said.
But once he found the energy, he didn't stop.
McGrady hit a 22-foot jumper with 1:19 left to break a 77-77 tie. Houston's Shane Battier blocked a driving layup by Ben Gordon with 25 seconds left. McGrady then hit one of two free throws to make it a three-point game and Chuck Hayes and Luther Head added two foul shots apiece.
It was the sixth straight 30-point performance for McGrady, who hit just three of 10 shots in the first half and scored 25 in the final two periods.
"I kind of got loose a little bit, made some adjustments, (got) the ball on the move a lot and (created) some space on offense," he said.
Juwan Howard added 16 points and nine rebounds. Dikembe Mutombo grabbed 16 rebounds, and the Rockets won for the sixth time in eight games since Yao Ming broke a bone in his right leg. They hit just 34 of 87 shots, including 8-of-32 on 3-pointers, but the Bulls never got going, either.
Chicago went 30-for-82, including 3-of-15 from long range. The Bulls suffered their third loss in four games -- each by seven points or less.
"A lot of shots we had were open," said forward Michael Sweetney, who had eight points and six rebounds. "We just had an off night."
Gordon led Chicago with 24 points, and Luol Deng scored 20 after finishing with 30 in Saturday's 106-89 win over Detroit.
"Well, they are No. 1 in the league in points allowed and defensive shooting percentage," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "Sometimes when you get that reputation, teams come in and for whatever reason they miss. They are a good defensive team. Dikembe Mutombo protects the basket and they have guys on the perimeter who move around well."
And they're winning without Yao, who was in Chicago to have his leg examined. The All-Star center attended his first road game since Dec. 23, when he fractured a bone below his knee during a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and players bellowed "Hey Yao!" before the game as he hobbled into the locker room on crutches, his leg in a brace.
"We're a team that hangs in there," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We've been without Yao or McGrady or both since (early December). It hasn't been a situation of woe is me. We've tried to fight and claw, play good and find a way to win on a given night."
Yao's presence wasn't enough to spark the Rockets early. They shot 1-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half and trailed 40-30 at the break. Or, as McGrady put it, the Rockets "played terrible basketball."
McGrady got going, and the Rockets wiped out the lead. They were ahead 54-51 going into the fourth and used the long ball to make it a seven-point game in the opening minutes.
Rafer Alston, who missed his first nine shots after failing to connect on his last 11 in Sunday's overtime loss to Minnesota, started the quarter with a 3. McGrady added two more as the lead reached 65-58, but the Bulls weren't finished.
They scored eight straight and 11 of 13 to take a 69-67 lead with 6:25 left. Gordon scored seven during that stretch. His jumper off the dribble put the Bulls ahead by one, and he hit a 3-pointer after a basket by McGrady to make it 69-67 Chicago.
"We play great defense," McGrady said. "In the third quarter, we came out and made some adjustments on the defensive end. We put a stop to their tough guys and made them take shots they didn't want to take. On the other end, we came down and executed our offense and got ourselves back in the ballgame."
- Neither team spent much time at the foul line. The Bulls were 14-of-16 there, and the Rockets hit 8-of-11.
- Van Gundy delivered a strong message to those hoping for a change at point guard: Forget about it. Alston is staying in the lineup. "This has always puzzled me," Van Gundy said. "When you lose Yao and you go 5-2, I'm not looking after losing an overtime game to blow somebody up.
- Rafer's our point guard. He's gonna be our point guard. If anybody has a problem with that, wants to see a change, it ain't gonna happen. Everybody can stop all the questions about who's next. There ain't no next right now."
- Bulls backup F P.J. Brown was tending to a personal matter out of town and was not at the game.