The seven-time All-Star had bigger problems than excessive perspiration when he got on the court as he missed his first six shots and had just one point at halftime.
He finally shook off his jitters to score 16 points in the third quarter and lead the Rockets to an 84-75 win over the Jazz on Saturday night in Game 1 of the series.
"I told myself at halftime to calm down," McGrady said. "I had to take a couple of deep breaths and gather myself together because I was on a high ... coming out in the third quarter I was more relaxed."
McGrady finished with 23 points. Before his outburst, the Rockets relied on Yao Ming, who finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
"Sometimes when you want something so bad, it works against you a little bit," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "That's what happened with him in the first half."
Utah led by nine at halftime and was ahead 49-41 before Houston went on an 8-2 run, fueled by seven points by McGrady to get within two. A jump shot by Deron Williams made it 53-49 before a 3 by Shane Battier put Houston within striking distance.
"I wish I'd have made that basket," Fisher said. "My leg gave out as I went up and I just didn't get enough lift. Maybe I could've slowed their momentum down a little bit if I'd have hit that shot. I don't like to focus on one play, but I would love to have that play back."
McGrady's 16 points in the third quarter came on 7-of-8 shooting. After Yao's dunk, he made a long two before sinking a 3 on the next possession to push Houston's lead to 59-53. After the three, McGrady backpedaled while repeatedly yelling 'Yeah' at the frenzied crowd.
"When I made my first couple jumpers, I knew I was going to get rolling," McGrady said. "I couldn't let them deny me for two halves. My team needed me more than ever, because I didn't give them anything in the first half."
"We knew this would be a dogfight and a defensive battle," Williams said. "They made a nice run and we seemed to hang our heads a little bit."
Utah cut the lead to two points several times early in the fourth quarter, but each time the Rockets answered. Consecutive 3s by Alston and Luther Head stretched Houston's lead to 71-63 and the Jazz didn't threaten again.
McGrady hit a 3, followed by a pair of free throws late in the fourth to make it 78-65.
"We got too big a gap and couldn't close it," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan.
Williams had 15 points, nine assists and nine rebounds for Utah. Fisher added 15 points.
After missing the postseason last year, the Rockets are looking to win a playoff series for the first time since 1997 behind McGrady who is winless in five career playoff series. The Jazz, in the playoffs for the first time since 2003, won three of four regular season meetings.
Game 2 is Monday night in Houston.
The Jazz led by 1 after the first quarter, but Houston made just 2 of 13 shots in the second quarter and trailed 42-33 at halftime. It would have been worse if not for seven free throws by Yao in the quarter. McGrady had seven assists and Alston finished with nine points, eight assists and 11 rebounds.
- Chuck Hayes missed Saturday's shootaround for the birth of his first child, a son, Dorian Titus Hayes. He returned in time for the game and made his first playoff start and had four points and nine rebounds.
- Yao's 13 rebounds are a playoff best for the center, whose previous high was 11 against the Lakers in 2004.
- Williams came just shy of joining Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the only players to record triple-doubles against the Rockets in the playoffs.