HOUSTON (AP) - The Houston Rockets have been working on playing better in the fourth quarter.
The effort appears to be paying off.
Luis Scola had 35 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday night to lead the Rockets to a 97-83 win over the Detroit Pistons, ruining Tracy McGrady's return to Houston.
McGrady hit a 3-pointer with about eight minutes left to get the Pistons within one, but Houston scored the next seven points to stretch the lead to 85-77 with six minutes remaining. Scola made the last basket of that run and added six of Houston's next eight points as the Rockets built a 93-79 lead.
``We struggled early in the season closing these types of games and later on we were able to play harder and better when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter,' said Scola, who scored 10 points in the last period. ``We have kind of shaken out all of that fear that we were having at the beginning of the season and we are closing the games better.'
Detroit's Ben Wallace was impressed with Scola's play.
``Scola had a good night,' Wallace said. ``He got into a good rhythm and got his team over the hump when they needed it.'
McGrady, who spent 5 1/2 seasons with the Rockets, finished with 11 points. He got his fourth and fifth fouls shortly after his 3-pointer and went to the bench for good.
``It really wasn't as strange as I thought it would be,' he said of his return. ``I felt like I was going to come out here and, whatever (happened) I was going to have a good game.'
Rodney Stuckey had 18 points and five assists for Detroit.
Kyle Lowry added 22 points and 12 assists for Houston, and Kevin Martin had 21 points.
``We knew Tracy was going to come back aggressive and he wanted to get a win,' Lowry said. ``But we did some things to try to stop him from getting that and we got the win.'
Detroit scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, capped by a dunk by Greg Monroe, to cut the lead to 76-74 before the Rockets took over.
McGrady played his first game in Houston since being traded to the Knicks last season. He signed with the Pistons as a free agent before the season and moved into a backup role for the first time in his career.
``I'm accepting my role on this team and I really enjoy trying to make my team better,' he said.
His wife and children greeted him with smiles and waves as they headed to their seats a few rows behind the Detroit bench minutes before tip-off. Rockets fans were not as happy to see him and booed heartily when he entered the game late in the first quarter.
There were a spattering of boos each time McGrady touched the ball early on, but they eventually tapered off. Fans got worked up again late in the third quarter when he was given a foul after pushing Lowry out of bounds while chasing a loose ball.
He said he was booed much worse in his first return to Toronto after going to Orlando.
``I'm never surprised,' he said of the booing. ``You never know what to expect ... some cheers, some boos. I've seen it, heard it.'
Houston led by 10 before Stuckey scored seven points in a 9-2 run that cut it to 64-61 with about six minutes left in the third. The Rockets responded with five straight points and carried a 75-66 lead into the fourth.
McGrady snapped a 16-0 Houston run with two free throws late in the first half for Detroit's first points in more than four minutes. But Richard Hamilton was whistled for two technicals and ejected, and Martin made all four free throws to give Houston a 54-45 halftime lead.
Detroit coach John Kuester wasn't happy with Hamilton's ejection.
``We can't afford to lose him anymore in a game because we need him,' Kuester said. ``He's been in this league long enough, and he needs to - like all of us - be able to adjust to the whistle.'
NOTES: Houston's Shane Battier started despite struggling with a stomach virus this week. ... Houston's Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks remain out with ankle injuries. ... Martin made 43 straight free throws before missing one on Tuesday. That streak is tied for the second longest in the NBA this season. ... Detroit's 83 points were a season-low for a Houston opponent.
The Associated Press News Service
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