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Tracy McGrady played more than he expected, making 10 of 17 shots in 32 minutes.
NEW YORK -- Well, he's definitely got something left in the tank. But Tracy McGrady didn't have enough fuel to make much of a difference in overtime.
McGrady gave the Knicks all he had Saturday night while scoring 26 points in his debut for New York, but what he didn't have was the energy for an extra five minutes. And with McGrady sitting in favor of fellow newcomer Sergio Rodriguez for all but the final 32.6 seconds of overtime, the Knicks came up short in a 121-118 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I didn't have any legs at all, and I felt like why should I be out there if I'm hurting my team?" McGrady explained. "It wasn't the right thing to do. I didn't want to be a hero in my first game back."
A hero he wasn't, but McGrady certainly provided a buzz in the Knicks' first game since their salary dumping moves at the trade deadline Thursday. McGrady was in the starting five, was introduced last, and showed that there's still enough life in his 30-year-old body for him to be a factor for somebody, somewhere, at some point down the road.
The question is where? And whether it'll be in New York once the Knicks go out and spend their roughly $35 million worth of free-agent money this summer. McGrady's rights will have to be renounced in order for the Knicks to clear that cap space, but he says he is willing to stick around at a fraction of his former worth if the Knicks are able to bring in two maximum-salary players in free agency.
"Money will not be an issue," McGrady said, implying that he would sign for the veteran's minimum this summer if the Knicks are forced to fill out their roster with minimum-salaried players.
Of course, that all assumes the Knicks will try to bring two max-level players aboard -- an idea that team president Donnie Walsh says is a misassumption.
"I've seen that written 100 times, and nobody writes it when I say that's not necessarily the plan," Walsh complained. "It's always one name."
That name, of course, is LeBron James, and the acquisition of McGrady was one of the keys to clearing enough cap space to make an offer to James (or Dwyane Wade) and then fill in the roster with premium players from there. One option would be trying to acquire Chris Bosh through a sign-and-trade using David Lee as bait; another would be to retain Lee at less than max dollars and then use the remaining cap space to add someone of significance at another position (see point guard and center, positions where the need is acute).
"There should be a buzz, because there's a lot that's unknown. We're in a great spot, Donnie did a great job to get us where we're at," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We've looked different a lot over the last two years, and we'll look different next year."
Heck, they looked pretty different Saturday, too, what with Rodriguez getting the bulk of the point guard minutes (although Chris Duhon started again -- and struggled again) and Eddie House instead of Danilo Gallinari becoming the go-to shooter when the Knicks needed 3-point baskets late.
After McGrady missed a pair of free throws with 1:05 left in regulation and New York ahead by six (D'Antoni said it was fatigue; McGrady contradicted that and said it was lack of concentration), Jeff Green and Kevin Durant made 3-pointers to send the game to overtime. McGrady re-entered the game for the first time in the extra period with just 32.6 seconds remaining, and immediately found House with an inbounds pass for a jumper that put New York ahead 118-117. Durant, who scored at least 25 points for the 27th consecutive game, answered with a driving jumper with 16.6 ticks remaining.
McGrady then became the designated inbounder again, and House rushed an off-balance 3-pointer before the ball was tipped to Gallinari in the corner for another 3 that was off-target.
"I hadn't felt that good in a while, and to hear those chants [the first "We want Tra-cy" chant occurred with 8 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter] really sent chills down my spine," McGrady said. "It felt foreign when I first stepped out there. I had the jitters."
But in the end, there was nothing left in the tank. McGrady didn't want to be the hero, and he wasn't.
And if there's ever going to be a real hero for the next half-decade at Madison Square Garden, it won't be the sleepy-eyed fellow wearing Stephon Marbury's old uniform No. 3. It'll be the guy in Cleveland who becomes available July 1, the guy Walsh is sick of seeing mentioned as his Plan A.