SEATTLE -- Tracy McGrady insists he's not normal.
After a relatively mortal first half, McGrady ignored the pain in his injured left shoulder to score 18 of his 25 points in the third quarter, and the Houston Rockets kept pace in the wild Western Conference playoff race with a 79-66 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics on Friday night.
It was the second straight night McGrady took over in the second half of a game Houston could not afford to lose. On Thursday night in Portland, McGrady blitzed the Trail Blazers for 26 points in the second half of a 95-86 win.
"I was in a lot of pain today. It was definitely worse than it has been in the past. Today was pretty brutal," McGrady said of his sprained left shoulder.
"I'm not normal right now. My shoulder is pretty banged up. Definitely not normal, but it's something I can play through."
And look pretty good doing it.
McGrady wore a wrap on the shoulder in the first half, but tossed it aside at halftime as it limited the extension on his shot. It showed in his first half numbers -- 2-of-10 shooting.
By the start of the second half, the wrap was gone. McGrady made four of his first five shots to start the third quarter, giving the Rockets the lead for good on his 15-footer with 10:03 left. McGrady's only second-half mistake was the ball slipping from his hands and missing a breakaway dunk in the third quarter.
Using his height advantage over Adrian Griffin, McGrady shot 9-of-13 in the third and 11-of-27 for the game.
"That's just T-Mac," Houston rookie Aaron Brooks said.
More important than McGrady's individual effort, the Rockets stayed even with Phoenix in the battle for fifth in the Western Conference. Most of the players crowded around a TV in the locker room after the game to watch the conclusion of the Lakers' victory over Dallas.
"It's fun. We're all basketball fans here," Shane Battier said. "But we really don't concern ourselves with who's winning and losing.
"I want the Rockets to win."
Bobby Jackson added 13 points, playing well in place of injured starter Rafer Alston, who missed his second straight game with a sore hamstring. Alston said he would normally rest longer getting ready for the playoffs, but hopes to play Sunday in Los Angeles against the Clippers as Houston continues the fight for positioning.
Nick Collison had 15 points and 11 rebounds, but the Sonics lost for the 20th time in 22 games and assured themselves of at least matching the worst record in franchise history. Seattle would need wins in its final six games to match the franchise-worst 23 wins from its first season of existence -- highly unlikely with all six remaining games against teams trying to make the playoffs.
Rookie Kevin Durant slogged through the worst shooting night of his young career. Durant missed his first eight attempts, and finished 2-of-17 with a season-low four points.
Seattle's 66 points were a season low and the fewest allowed by Houston. It was also the third-lowest point total in franchise history and the Sonics shot a season-worst 30.1 percent.
"They're a good defensive team and when guys are not making shots, or are reluctant to shoot it, they just pack it in a little bit tighter," Seattle coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
McGrady was immediately more aggressive as the second half started, reminiscent of two months ago when he scored 18 second-half points in his previous visit to Seattle. Even with the wrap gone, it took some time for the pain killers to set in and finally take the throbbing out of the shoulder he injured on March 24 against Sacramento.
"You've just got to insert yourself on the offensive end," McGrady said. "The first half was rough as a group and for me. ... It was just a matter of coming out, and being focused and taking over the ball game to do whatever the team needed to win."
Battier added 11 points and defensively was largely responsible for Durant's miserable night.
Despite Durant's struggles, Seattle managed to lead 41-40 at halftime, rallying after a sluggish start and with no help from its two rookie starters.
Durant was 1-of-12 in the first half, his only basket an easy lob from Luke Ridnour. Jeff Green was equally bad, hitting just one of five shots and committing three turnovers.
- The Sonics announced that injured reserve Mickael Gelabale will have surgery on the torn ACL in his right knee in France and will remain in the country during his rehab.
- Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren sat courtside, drawing one of the loudest cheers of the night when he was introduced during the first quarter.