Last night, the San Antonio Spurs completed their sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in commanding fashion, blowing them out as Dwight Howard self-destructed. With the Lakers roster depleted because of injury — they nearly had as many players in suits on the bench than in uniform — the Spurs handled their business and now get to rest and recover before facing their next opponent.
Game 4 was out of reach for the Lake Show before halftime even rolled around and the final five minutes allowed us to get a look at the newest Spur, Tracy McGrady. On April 16, the Spurs signed McGrady after he finished his season in China, where he averaged 25 points and 7.2 rebounds in 29 games for Qingdao of the Chinese Basketball League.
While McGrady’s stat line last night wasn’t the least bit impressive (one assist, one steal, one turnover, and one foul) it meant something more than stats to T Mac: he has finally advanced to the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
Perhaps McGrady’s closest foray to the second round came during the 2003 postseason. That season, McGrady was one of the league’s biggest stars. He had captured his first of two scoring titles (averaging 32.1 points per game) and was the man for the Orlando Magic, who entered the postseason as the No. 8 seed.
However average his team was (seriously, they started guys like Gordan Giricek, Andrew DeClercq, Jacque Vaughn and Pat Garrity during that series), against the top-seeded Detroit Pistons, McGrady came out on fire. He scored 43, 46, 29 and 27 points in the first four games respectively, shooting over 51 percent from the field as the Magic took three of the first four games. In the postgame press conference following Game 4, when asked how he felt following the victory, McGrady replied, “It feels good to get in the second round.”
Yet the Magic and T-Mac hadn’t technically cleared that hurdle. That was the first year the opening round was changed from a best-of-five format to a best-of-seven. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue by McGrady or maybe he did truly believe that his team had advanced, but the one thing his quote did was get the attention of the Pistons.
Then Pistons coach Rick Carlisle turned to rookie forward Tayshaun Prince, who had been collecting bench blisters most of the season, in hopes that his length and athleticism would bother and slow down T-Mac enough to keep Detroit within reach of winning a game. In the end, Carlisle’s plan worked to perfection.
In Game 5, with Prince playing 33 minutes, McGrady scored only 19 points on 8-for-20 shooting. The Pistons dominated, 98-67, to extend the series. Game 6 saw McGrady total 37 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals, but in the fourth quarter, McGrady was only able to score six points. It wasn’t enough to defeat Detroit, carried by the 40-point performance from Chauncey Billups. Game 7 also never saw heroics from McGrady, who shot 7-for-24 from the field and finished with only 21 points as the Pistons closed out the series rather easily, 108-93.