Tracy McGrady’s decline had an unfortunate side effect. Once one of the best players in the NBA and a bonafide superstar, his final years made people forget just how dominant the Hall of Fame shooting guard was at the top of his game.
From unbelievable feats of clutchness and athleticism to monster scoring outputs, Tracy McGrady was an unlucky event or two away from being right up there with the greatest players ever.
Tracy McGrady’s beginnings
McGrady wasn’t an immediate star in the NBA. Coming out of high school, he had to earn his place as a consistent starter for the Toronto Raptors, averaging just around 20 minutes a game during his first two seasons. It didn’t help that he had to compete with his second cousin once removed, Vince Carter, during his second season.
McGrady had a breakout year during his third season, putting up 15 points a game, most off the bench. This was enough improvement to get a good contract with Orlando, where the Tracy McGrady show would officially begin his star campaign.
McGrady’s production immediately went up in Orlando, with his scoring shooting up to 26 points-per-game, and in his third year he would put up 32 a game. He wasn’t just a star, he was a budding superstar.
However, McGrady’s career was still devoid of anything past individual accolades, and he needed a fresh start.
Prime and decline
Ming’s skill and size were too much for opponents to handle, and McGrady’s ability to score at will meant that this two-headed monster was hard to keep up with. Unfortunately, it was injuries that would ultimately define both of their legacies.
Everything after Houston was forgettable, from a brief stint in New York, single-season stints in Detroit and Atlanta, and a strange playoff-only berth with San Antonio, where McGrady would leave the first round for the first time in his career.
Injuries, bad luck, and simply facing better teams put a damper on Tracy McGrady’s legacy, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t have some memorable moments.
On March 10, 2004, McGrady put on a show. In an era were 60 point games weren’t happening, McGrady would punish the Washington Wizards to the tune of 62 points and 10 rebounds in 46 minutes.
At the time, McGrady was only the 17th player in NBA history to eclipse the 60-point mark, and the media went berserk for his accomplishment.
TMac vs. Dirk
McGrady had some stellar performances versus the in-state rival Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki. His most memorable performance was in 2004. On December 2, the two took to TNT to battle. Although McGrady would lose, his battle with Nowitzki in the overtime game was one of the rare times where NBA fans got to see two titans of the game going back and forth, and McGrady went for 48, trailing Nowitzki’s 53 by five points.
That year in the playoffs, the two teams would meet again. With Yao out due to injury, McGrady would have to pick up the slack, and while the Rockets would eventually lose the series, McGrady did everything in his power to keep them in, putting up 30 points-per-game for the series. It was, perhaps, the greatest series of his career.
13 points in 33 seconds
McGrady had his defining performance during a game versus the San Antonio Spurs. Trailing 76-68, McGrady hit a three-point jumper with 33 seconds left, making it a five-point game. After the Spurs hit two free throws, McGrady would hit another three, this time after being fouled by Tim Duncan. He made the free throw, cutting the lead to three.
The Spurs would hit two more free throws, making it a five-point game before McGrady would hit another three, cutting it to two. McGrady would catch a fumbled ball from Bruce Bowen and dribble up the court and hit another three, giving the Rockets the unlikeliest of wins.
McGrady’s single-handed comeback may still be the most impressive clutch performance that a player has had in a single game, and in many ways is his greatest moment.