Unlikely Hero Fuels Rockets In Overtime
By KEVIN HUDSON
The NBA playoffs routinely feature unlikely heroes.
But none have been quite as unlikely as Troy Daniels, who capped a chaotic scramble for the ball with a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Rockets ahead 119-116 with 11.9 seconds left in overtime Friday night.
A missed triple by Nic Batum and two James Harden freethrows cemented the final 121-116 margin but the winning shot belonged to Daniels, a D-League player called up by the Rockets March 3, playing in his sixth NBA game.
“It’s a dream come true, plain and simple,” Daniels said of the opportunity and the shot. “My teammates and my coaches instilled confidence in me just to be ready to shoot that shot and that’s what I do, that’s my job.”
Houston coach Kevin McHale noted Daniels’ shooting ability and gritty play as prompts for his expanded minutes Friday at the Moda Center.
“I needed someone to make a couple threes, or three threes to be exact. He can shoot the ball and we needed someone to stretch the court,” McHale said. “He’s a tough kid and he’s going to get his nose dirty and we needed to get some nose dirty plays.”
The confidence it takes for a player in his sixth NBA game to take, and make, a game-winning shot in a playoff game comes from his coach and his teammates, according to Daniels.
“Three or four weeks ago I was looking at these guys on TV and now they’re teammates,” he said. “Like I said it’s a dream come true and I feed off of their confidence a lot.”
But long before the Daniels game-winner, the Houston Rockets laid the foundation for success by limiting LaMarcus Aldridge to 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting, by far his lowest production of the series after two historic games in Houston.
Containing Portland’s All-Star power forward was a team effort, according to McHale.
“We tried a bunch of different stuff. We’re just trying to keep bodies on him,” McHale said. “He’s a tough cover…We just have to keep on trying to make him take tough shots.”
Keeping Aldridge disrupted and off-rhythm was also a key to the Rockets staving off Portland down the stretch, said Harden.
“LaMarcus Aldridge was putting up historic numbers against us in the first two games, so that was our main goal was to kind of slow him down and make their entire team beat us,” Harden said.
“Damian Lillard played well tonight and Batum hit some big shots but Lamarcus couldn’t get a rhythm throughout the entire game. That’s what we needed so in crunch time he missed a couple shots that he was making in the first two games.”
The other key ingredient for a Houston victory was an attacking mindset on the offensive end of the floor, something that Harden said the team lacked in its two losses in Houston.
“That’s how we need to play and the first two games that was missing and we were kind of stagnant with the basketball,” Harden said. “Tonight it started with some great defense by our bigs on LaMarcus making him have to take tough shots and that gave us the opportunity to get some rebounds and get out in transition a little bit.”
And with the threat of an even series looming should the Rockets steal another game at the Moda Center, Harden said the pressure is off.
“The pressure is on them,” he said. “Sunday is going to be a great game and we just have to do a good job of being ready and being focused.”