Reliving Tracy McGrady's NBA Prime with Top 10 Games of His Career

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 27, 2013

Reliving Tracy McGrady's NBA Prime with Top 10 Games of His Career

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    Picking out just 10 games in an attempt to relive Tracy McGrady's NBA prime? 

    Yikes. Sounds like a tough task. 

    After all, there are dozens and dozens of tremendous performances to choose from. McGrady was a two-time scoring champion, a bona fide MVP candidate and a seven-time All-Star when he was at his best. Hell, there were legitimate discussions as to whether or not he could be the best player in basketball. 

    But 10 games it is. 

    These are the performances that truly sum up his career, and they're the ones that should allow you to recall just how special the newly retired superstar was during the best days of his NBA tenure. 

    Let's take a walk back through the early 2000s with one quick detour. 

10. January 2, 2012 Against the Miami Heat

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    Tracy McGrady only scored 16 points to go along with his seven rebounds and four assists, but it was the method that made this game so special. Plus, it was the game that most allowed him to turn back the clocks and look like prime T-Mac for one last time. 

    Against the stacked Miami Heat, he started hitting everything during the fourth quarter. Of his 16 points, 13 came in the final period to spark a 33-21 quarter in Atlanta's favor. It was enough to push the Hawks to a surprising 100-92 victory and hand the Heat their first loss of the season. 

    For a little while, he had Atlanta fans thinking that he could be that crucial bench spark. Unfortunately, this was more of an aberration than a permanent reversion to prime status, but it was still a fun interruption of his declining career. 

    And now, let's move into the games that actually came in his prime. 

9. February 23, 2002 Against the Philadelphia 76ers

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    Playing against Allen Iverson (on an inefficient day) and the Philadelphia 76ers, T-Mac put up the first triple-double of his career, recording 22 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and four steals. 

    However, while the numbers were gaudy, it was one of those triple-doubles that was more unique than truly exemplary. 

    The Magic did manage to blow out the Sixers thanks to a 16-point lead at halftime, but McGrady never truly found his shot. He went 8-of-20 from the field, which was by no means a poor outing. It just wasn't up there with the great scoring outbursts that we've come to know and love over the years. 

    Chalk this one up as more of a historically significant moment than an elite game, simply because it was the first time a legendary player got to double figures in three different categories. 

8. March 8, 2008 Against the New Orleans Hornets

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    The Houston Rockets were in the midst of a winning streak that wouldn't end until the Boston Celtics snapped it at 22 games, but the New Orleans Hornets were set on stopping it first. They entered the game slightly ahead of the Rockets in the standings, and they gained an early lead after a 23-20 first quarter. 

    Then McGrady exploded. 

    In the second quarter, which ended 39-23 in favor of Houston, T-Mac had 12 points, five assists and a rebound. He wasn't just a part of Houston's offense; he was the offense for that quarter. 

    All in all, the man in question put up 41 points, six rebounds, nine assists and two blocks in the throwback game. 

7. April 13, 2001 Against the Washington Wizards

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    Whenever the Washington Wizards were on the schedule for the Orlando Magic, you could count on McGrady having a stellar game. There was just something about those jerseys that must have gotten him all riled up. 

    The trend was in full force on April 13, 2001 when he stuffed the stat sheet for 49 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and four blocks. 

    McGrady was a whirling dervish of basketball destruction, and a Wizards team led by Rip Hamilton, Christian Laettner and Courtney Alexander couldn't do much at all to stop him. McGrady did a lot of his damage at the rim, which was actually more unique than you might think during his scoring outbursts. When he caught fire, it was typically from the perimeter. 

    Unfortunately for the Magic, no one else could get it going.

    While T-Mac shot 19-of-31 from the field, his teammates went 22-of-51, and that wasn't enough to get by a rather putrid Washington squad. 

6. March 28, 2001 Against the Philadelphia 76ers

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    In a 96-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, McGrady recorded 44 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Just another one of those huge games we were getting used to back in the early 2000s.

    But it wasn't the final line that made this performance special. It was the shot you can see in the embedded video.

    That running layup with 2.7 seconds tied McGrady's then-career-high in points, and it also gave him the first game-winner of his career. Let's also take a second and marvel at the wonderful work with the telestrator at 4:38. 

    This wouldn't be McGrady's last game-winning shot, but it was his first, and that makes it quite special. 

5. March 8, 2002 Against the Washington Wizards

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    Here come those Wizards once again.

    I'm telling you, it was uncanny how well he played against them. Throughout his career, he only averaged more points against the Utah Jazz, but he shot 48.4 percent against the Wizards en route to putting up 23.5 points per game over the course of his career. Against the Jazz, it was 43.9 percent for 23.8 points, and he recorded fewer rebounds and assists. 

    In this particular game, T-Mac was on fire. 

    He dropped 50 points for the first time in his career, and he did so on a sensational 18-of-29 performance from the field. All of those points were needed, as the Magic only squeezed out a three-point victory. 

    McGrady's 15 points in the final quarter were the deciding factor. 

4. February 23, 2003 Against the New Jersey Nets

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    There must be something special about February 23 for T-Mac.

    He recorded his first triple-double on that day in 2002, then put up the second of his career exactly a year later. But this time, it was a much more impressive one. 

    McGrady torched the New Jersey Nets in an eight-point victory, throwing up 46 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. He was responsible for well over half of the team's points, and he also took time to block two shots on the defensive end while holding Richard Jefferson to an awful night. 

    And remember, this was back when Jefferson was actually good. 

    McGrady did it all while shooting 16-of-27 from the field. 

3. March 10, 2004 Against the Washington Wizards

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    The list of players who have scored at least 60 points in a game is (relatively) short and sweet: Gilbert Arenas, Rick Barry, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant (five times), Wilt Chamberlain (seven times), Tom Chambers, George Gervin, Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan (four times), Bernard King, Karl Malone, Pete Maravich, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson and David Thompson. 

    Oh, and Tracy McGrady, thanks to this 62-point masterpiece against the...wait for it...Washington Wizards. 

    This game is tied for the 12th-biggest scoring outburst in NBA history, and McGrady did it on 20-of-37 shooting while also recording 10 rebounds and five assists. 

    It will go down as one of the best performances in NBA history, even if it's only the No. 3 entry on McGrady's list of top games. 

2. April 25, 2005 Against the Dallas Mavericks

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    Were McGrady's 28 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks and three steals in this game as impressive as his 62-point outing? Not from a statistical standpoint, but there were a couple key elements that made this game so much more special. 

    First, it came in the postseason. 

    The one trouble spot on McGrady's resume is that he never found any success during the playoffs, failing to advance past the first round until joining the San Antonio Spurs as a reserve in the twilight of his career. But you wouldn't know it from this performance in Game 2 of the first round in 2005. 

    Secondly, there's the dunk over Shawn Bradley, one that came after McGrady rocketed past Dirk Nowitzki

    That dunk will create posters for all of eternity, and it deserves to. It was one of the top individual highlights of the superstar's career, and it was as ferocious as a dunk gets. 

    Finally, there was the whole thing about hitting a game-winner. 

    After Dirk tied the game with 10 seconds remaining, McGrady calmly drilled a 23-footer to give his Houston squad a two-point lead with 2.2 seconds left. Once Michael Finley missed his buzzer-beating attempt, it proved to be the deciding shot and gave Houston a 2-0 series lead. 

1. December 9, 2004 Against the San Antonio Spurs

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    This is both the most famous and top game of McGrady's career, and it's all thanks to 35 seconds of action. 

    Below you can see the play-by-play, courtesy of Basketball-Reference. I've put bold, italicized text for every play McGrady was involved in and condensed it a little bit by eliminating substitutions and timeouts.

    0:35.0  76-71+3T. McGrady makes 3-pt shot from 26 ft
    0:31.9Personal foul by B. Sura 76-71  
    0:31.9D. Brown makes free throw 1 of 2+177-71  
    0:31.9D. Brown makes free throw 2 of 2+178-71  
    0:24.3  78-74+3T. McGrady makes 3-pt shot from 26 ft
    0:24.3  78-74 Shooting foul by T. Duncan
    0:24.3  78-75+1T. McGrady makes free throw 1 of 1
    0:16.2Personal foul by S. Padgett 78-75  
    0:16.2T. Duncan makes free throw 1 of 2+179-75  
    0:16.2T. Duncan makes free throw 2 of 2+180-75  
    0:11.2  80-78+3T. McGrady makes 3-pt shot from 26 ft
    0:07.9Turnover by D. Brown (lost ball; steal by T. McGrady) 80-78  
    0:01.7  80-81+3T. McGrady makes 3-pt shot from 26 ft
    0:00.0T. Parker misses 3-pt shot from 27 ft 80-81  
    0:00.0End of 4th quarter

    Thirteen points. Thirty-five seconds.

    That's all it took to create a game that will resonate with basketball fans forever.