All Together Now
Rockets stirring the echoes of Clutch City in effort to bounce back versus Blazers
HOUSTON - Keep fighting and keep the faith.
That’s the message emanating from within the Rockets’ locker room in the wake of the loss that put them in a 3-1 series hole to the Portland Trail Blazers. Ever since Sunday’s heartbreaking overtime defeat, Dwight Howard has been preaching positivity while head coach Kevin McHale has implored his troops to embrace the grind of postseason basketball. And Tuesday afternoon, a man well versed in both subjects dropped by to hammer home that sermon the day before the Rockets put their season on the line in a must-win Game 5.
Mario Elie spoke to Houston’s players prior to the start of this afternoon’s practice, delivering a message borne of the kind of firsthand experience that has since become the stuff of Rockets’ lore. Elie, of course, is best known for his ‘kiss of death shot’ that finished off the Phoenix Suns in Game 7 of the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals, allowing Houston to become the first team in NBA history to overcome both a 2–0 and 3–1 series deficit in the same seven-game series. The former Rocket has been there and done that, providing him with a unique perspective on the mindset required to conjure a similar sort of magic. Not surprisingly, his message hit its mark.
“That was huge,” said Chandler Parsons. “Just someone who’s been in this situation before, on the Rockets, it’s huge to hear from him and just the mindset he had and what we should be thinking and how we just need to believe in each other and basically how it’s not over and we can still turn this thing around and put the pressure back on them.”
Added Troy Daniels: “It’s a brotherhood. This whole Rockets organization, we just have to come together and believe. We can win this game and win this series, we just have to believe first.”
Howard has spoken of maintaining that sort of faith from the second Houston fell into its current hole. With as close as each of these games has been, he understands that even the slightest improvements and adjustments could swing this series in Houston's direction, and that additional hope, as always, is just a win away.
“Whenever you’ve got your back against the wall you’ve got to fight your way out of it,” said the Rockets’ All-Star big man who has delivered 27 points, three blocks and more than 14 rebounds per game in this series. “We’re not going to stop believing. Each game we’ve been in so it’s not like we’re getting blown out. We’re right there. We’ve got to go from playing good for 44 minutes to playing good for the full 48. We do that, we’ll turn this series around.”
“I’ve got full belief in this team. We’ve got to trust each other. We have to really believe – that's the only way we’re going to win it – and that starts with myself and James [Harden].”
It also starts with figuring out a way to put an end to the club’s fourth quarter foibles. Houston’s issues with closing games out in this series have been well documented and those crunch time hiccups have played a major role in the fact that the Rockets have been outscored in the fourth quarter of all four games thus far. Houston’s players understand they simply must execute better down the stretch – on both ends of the floor.
“We’ve got to lock-in on the scouting report,” says Parsons. “We have to defend, we have to keep guys in front of us. Defense is a team thing but individually we all have to do better keeping our man in front you, doing a good job on LaMarcus [Aldridge] and everybody’s got to block out and rebound because they’re killing us on the offensive glass.”
Howard, meanwhile, is also stressing to his teammates how important it is take full advantage of every postseason play, possession, and moment. Yes, the Rockets are young and their future seems bright and certain to be filled with many more playoff runs going forward. But 10 years in the league have taught him the importance of making the most of the present due to the capricious nature of that which often tantalyzingly - and occasionally misguidingly - appears to lie ahead on the horizon.
“We have an opportunity to win a championship despite being down in this series,” Howard stressed. “I’m a testament of how hard it is to get to the Finals. I’ve only been once and I’ve been in the league for 10 years. It’s not something that is destined. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a player, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get to the Finals so you can’t let any moment pass you by. Nothing is promised in this life.
“As a team, we have to come out and believe and we have to play like we want to win … All it takes is a little faith. If you believe and you go put in the work, anything is possible.”
And-1’s: Patrick Beverley, who played 37 minutes Sunday night despite dealing with a fever brought on by an illness, was still battling flu-like symptoms Tuesday and therefore did not take part in the club’s afternoon practice. Kevin McHale admitted concern over his starting point guard’s condition, but indicated he still expects Beverley to play in Game 5. Parsons, meanwhile, has gotten used to Beverley’s uncanny ability to beat the odds when his body attempts to stage any sort of revolt. “Every time I have a concern about (Beverley) he comes back even stronger,” he said. “He’s a competitor. I’ve never met anyone quite like him, so you can’t count him out ever.”
Lastly, Dwight Howard spoke eloquently today when asked for his thoughts on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to levy a lifetime ban on Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling in response to racist comments the league says he made in a recorded conversation. The gist of Howard’s message: Standing up for what’s right and uniting together as one today is wonderful; but far better would be a holistic dedication to doing so every single day – not just during the times when swift action is required.
“I just think that racism and hate and all of that stuff, I feel like it shouldn’t take an incident for people to stand together. We’ve all got to be together at all times. Anytime something goes wrong, that’s when we want to stand up or stand out, but I think as people we should all stand up and stand out in our everyday lives. There are things that happen everyday that we turn our faces from, but when a situation like this arises, we all want to come together. It’s a big situation and it’s right for all of us to come together, but we need to do this everyday for bullying, for violence and all of that stuff. We need to stand together and stand strong.
“I think what Adam Silver did was best for the NBA and our brand. He’s in control, he did the right thing. But like I said, it shouldn't take a situation (like this) to stand up; racism is wrong in any shape, form or fashion and it doesn’t matter the color, but we’ve all got to stand up everyday and believe that and walk in it.”