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Rockets Rule at Free-Throw Line to Outlast Jazz

Rockets Rule at Free-Throw Line to Outlast Jazz

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HOUSTON -- Each of the Houston Rockets have to make 10 consecutive free throws before they are allowed to leave the practice floor every day.

The often frustrating drill paid off Monday night, as the Rockets used an exceptional game from the line to offset Carlos Boozer's 41 points and beat the Utah Jazz 98-90 to go up 2-0 in the first-round playoff series.

Tracy McGrady scored 31 points for the Rockets, who hit 34 of 38 free throws to win for the 10th time in 14 games.

Boozer matched a career-high point total, tossing in jumpers from all angles over 7-foot-6 Yao Ming. He finished 17-of-30 from the field and had 12 rebounds and six assists.

It wasn't enough, though, as Houston shot poorly from everywhere but the foul line and still managed to win.

"We find some way to keep ourselves in a game, despite shooting the ball extremely bad," said McGrady, who went 9-for-29 from the field. "But we hit big shots when we needed them. We're doing a great job of getting to the free throw line."

Yao had 27 points and hit all nine of his free throws. McGrady went 12-for-14 from the line.

The Rockets shot 36 percent from the field (30-for-83), including going 4-for-24 from 3-point range.

The Jazz were charged with 29 personal fouls, most of them failed efforts to contain Houston's All-Star duo. Boozer said Utah has no choice but to defend Yao and McGrady that way.

"If that's how the series is going to be called, we have to adjust a little bit," Boozer said. "But that's how we have to play them. They're two superstars."

Chuck Hayes, whose wife gave birth on Saturday, had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets, who have won seven of eight playoff series when they led 2-0.

Hayes grabbed seven offensive rebounds, a catalyst for the Rockets' 15 second-chance points.

"The first half we were really struggling to score and Chuck gave us some great second-chance opportunities," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Tremendous hustle."

Game 3 is Thursday night in Salt Lake City.

Since 2001, only six teams have rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win a series. The Rockets were one of the teams that blew a 2-0 lead, losing four of five to Dallas in 2005.

The Jazz have never come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a playoff series. They have lost 16 of their last 17 road playoff games.

"We're going to have to be better to beat this team, we know that," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We need everybody on our team to perform well in order to try to beat them."

The Rockets struggled to get open looks against the stingy defense that's become Utah's trademark under Sloan.

But the strategy backfired this time and Houston, a 75 percent free throw shooting team during the regular season, made 29 of 32 free throws in the second half. Utah went only 13-for-17 from the line.

"When there is such a disparity in free throws," Sloan said, "it is very difficult."

The Jazz have dropped eight of their last 13, a late swoon that cost them homecourt advantage in this series.

Boozer looked right at home on Monday night, scoring 15 of Utah's first 17 points. He had only 11 points in Game 1.

"He was more aggressive than in the first game," Yao said. "I was putting my hand almost right there and he would still make the shots. I think I need to move quicker and try to get close to him. But he played a great game."

The Rockets missed 15 of their first 21 shots, while the Jazz started 12-for-20 to build a nine-point lead.

Rafer Alston made Houston's first 3-pointer three minutes into the second quarter after the Rockets missed their first eight attempts. After the hot start, Boozer missed four straight shots, part of Utah's 4-for-16 second quarter as the Rockets got within 41-39 at halftime.

Houston opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 spurt to stretch the lead to 76-64.

The Jazz made it 84-80 on baskets by Mehmet Okur and Boozer, but McGrady made two free throws with 3:13 left as chants of "MVP! MVP!" echoed through the Toyota Center.

"Mac did a great job cutting to the basket and getting to the free throw line," Battier said. "That's the only way we can survive 36 percent shooting."

The Rockets hit 10 of their last 12 free throws to secure the victory.

Game notes Boozer reached 30 points for the 11th time this season and recorded his 54th double-double. ... The Rockets went 4-for-24 from 3-point range. ... Utah's Andrei Kirilenko, who cried in front of reporters on Sunday because of reduced playing time in the opener, was no factor again. He picked up five fouls and didn't score in 15 ineffective minutes....The Jazz have lost all eight of its previous best-of-seven series in which it lost the first two games, five of them in five games, two in six games and one in seven games.

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