McGrady scored 19 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets capitalized on another key injury to the Clippers in a 88-71 victory Monday night.
The Rockets blew the game open with a demoralizing 22-5 run at the start of the fourth, pulling out to an 81-63 lead with 6:56 to play. McGrady, who helped fuel the pivotal rally with 14 points, started it with two free throws and a pair of 17-footers. The seven-time All-Star added a three-point play off an acrobatic reverse layup and capped the run with an 18-footer.
"In the first half, I wasn't really that aggressive and wasn't really looking to score the ball that much," McGrady said. "I was just trying to get other guys involved and let the offense flow. But in the third quarter I wanted to assert myself at the offensive end and I gained a little confidence in the outside game. Then in the fourth quarter, I just wanted to put my will into the game and take it over because I saw a lot of gaps in their defense. And I got myself rolling."
Rafer Alston added 17 points for the Rockets, who have posted back-to-back victories following a six-game losing streak, and have beaten the Clippers four consecutive times at Staples Center. Yao Ming had 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Clippers, who haven't shot 50 percent or better in any of their first 13 games, finished at 32.9 percent and have dropped seven of nine contests after a 4-0 start. Chris Kaman led them with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
The Clippers lost point guard Sam Cassell with 8:18 left in the first quarter after he strained his left calf defending Alston away from the ball in front of the Houston bench. Cassell, who is doubtful for a Friday night game at Denver, is one of only five Clippers to play in every game this season along with Kaman, Tim Thomas, Ruben Patterson and Quinton Ross.
"We can't take any more hits, because we need everybody on this team," said Corey Maggette, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a right hamstring strain and scored 21 points off the bench. "Just looking at our roster and the personnel we have, if we had everybody playing, this team would definitely be a contender."
Maggette and point guard Brevin Knight were pressed into service after coach Mike Dunleavy classified them as game-time decisions in his pregame session with reporters. Knight played 13 scoreless minutes after missing two games with a groin strain. Maggette was 7-for-13 from the field in 29½ minutes.
"I was really just trying to come in and feel my way around," Maggette said. "I tried to be a little more aggressive and help any way I could. I got a little fatigued toward the end -- and coming back from a hamstring injury, you don't want to push it, so the coach pulled me out when we were down by 17. Hopefully it'll be the last time I'll have to sit out with this kind of injury."
The injury bug has practically decimated the Clippers. Elton Brand isn't expected back until February because of a ruptured left Achilles tendon that required surgery. Point guard Shawn Livingston also will miss more than half the season while recovering from a dislocated left knee that sidelined him for the final 26 games of 2006-07.
Cuttino Mobley, still slowed by a groin injury, has been coming off the bench in recent games.
"It's so frustrating right now. It's almost like we have a curse on us with everybody getting hurt," Patterson said. "I've never been on a team like this. It's crazy. But we still hung in there. It's good to have Corey back, but we need everybody."
- Yao averaged 28 points and 12.5 rebounds in his two games against the Clippers at Staples Center last season. But in the Rockets' two home games against them, he broke a bone in his right leg on Dec. 23 and scored 14 points March 14 in his sixth game back from the injury.
- Cassell, who turned 38 on Nov. 18, is the third-oldest active player in the NBA behind Houston's Dikembe Mutombo (41) and New Jersey's Darrell Armstrong (39). Armstrong is out at least a month because of an injured thigh.
- Rockets G Luther Head, who hit a clutch 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds on the clock to help beat the Clippers on March 14 at Houston, never got into the game on his 25th birthday.