HOUSTON — Back in his heyday as heavyweight champion and baddest upright creature on the planet, Mike Tyson used to say everybody has a plan until they get hit.
Patrick Beverley got hit by a jarring screen set by New Zealander Steven Adams that seemed to come from half a world away and dropped like a bag of hammers. But he got back up, which has always been at the heart of the Beverley plan.
From being drafted by the Lakers in 2009, traded to the Heat and then cut before the end of training camp. From toiling in the Ukrainian second division to a stint in Greece and another in St. Petersburg, the one in Russia, staying down has never been an option.
Not when there is work to do.
The Houston Rockets were still wrestling with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoff opener Sunday night when the world suddenly went dark courtesy of the 7-foot, 255-pound Adams’ left shoulder.
But it was Beverley who turned the lights out on Oklahoma City.Barely two minutes later, Beverley let fly with a step-back 3 out on the right wing and very next time down the floor took a feed from James Harden and drilled another one, then took a moment to mug for the TV cameras and take a bow for the Toyota Center crowd that was suddenly on its feet with the kind of churning roar that one might normally expect to hear standing at the base of a massive waterfall as the Rockets were on their way to a 118-87 thumping.
These are the faithful that have come to belong to Beverley as much as The Beard over their five seasons together in Houston. For all of the awed reactions they have for Harden’s artistry out on the basketball canvas, there is also appreciation for the guy who cleans the paintbrushes.
It was two 3-pointers that found the bottom of the net at just the right time and an entire night of relentless pursuit by Beverley into every nook and cranny of the game to try to get loose balls, extra rebounds or make one more defensive play.
“Every player is unique, but the closest thing I ever had to him is Raja Bell. A guy that would get under the skin of everybody but their own teammates.”
This was the series that drew so much of the national attention and so many of the headline due to the matchup of the two show ponies — Harden and Russell Westbrook -- in the MVP race. But it was a game that was broken wide open in the third quarter by the ultimate workhorse.
Harden finished with 37 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, but missed 15 shots along the way. Westbrook wound up with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but clanked 17 tries.
The only triple-doubles that Beverley keeps track of include scratching, kicking and annoying the hell out of everyone.
“Every player is unique, but the closest thing I ever had to him is Raja Bell,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni. “A guy that would get under the skin of everybody but their own teammates.”
Beverley walked off with a playoff career-high 21 points with 10 rebounds, the second postseason double-double of his career. And yet the images that endure have little to do with statistics. It is a picture in the minds-eye of him doing everything but slapping a saddle on Westbrook and riding him around the court.
At one point in the second quarter, Beverley dogged Westbrook from behind as he tried to bring the ball up the floor, sending the Thunder guard sprawling to the floor. It was a play that drew a whistle and a foul. But the message had been delivered that it was going to be another of those black-and-blue nights for Westbrook. They do have a history, the pair, from back in the 2013 playoffs when Beverley collided with Westbrook’s knee and wiped him out for the rest of the playoffs.
They say the playoffs are when the real season begins. Tell that to Beverley, who plays each night like the fate of civilization is hanging in the balance.
“Tonight?” Harden asked. “He does it every game. That’s the reason why we’re in the position we’re in. He brings it every game. Whether his shot is falling or not, he brings the intensity.”
For a guy who had to literally travel the globe to keep chasing his dream, who signed on with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers in January of 2013 and just a few weeks later had already put his toe in the door with the Rockets, he stood there in front of the cheering crowd and took in the validation of the effort.
“The city of Houston has been great to me since I’ve been here,” Beverley said.
The Rockets have come this far -- third-best regular season record in the NBA -- by riding the nightly exploits of Harden’s varied skills and the wildest, craziest, 3-point shootingest offense that has ever been unleashed on the league. But if they are really going to become more than a sideshow and challenge the real order of true contenders at the top, they’ll need Beverley's defensive teeth, grit and attitude.
He plays like somebody put broken glass inside his sneakers, angry and edgy. After the crushing disappointment of last year’s 41-41 record and underachievement, when former teammate Dwight Howard came to town in February and stopped by the Rockets’ locker room to say hello to old buddies, Beverley called for security to have him tossed out.
So on Sunday night, he got hit by Adams and still had a plan.
“He’s just Pat,” Harden said.
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