The Red Viper
Troy Daniels bursts into the spotlight with season-saving OT strike
PORTLAND - “Who is Troy Daniels?”
The opening question of Friday night’s post-game press conference was as telling as it was predictable. Far more difficult to anticipate, however, were the circumstances that would usher forth the need for such a seemingly farfetched query in the first place.
With a game on the line and their season on the brink, the Rockets found themselves in desperate need of a hero. A contest that contained enough violent momentum swings to induce whiplash had spilled into overtime, setting the stage for someone on either side to add their name to NBA playoff lore. Both clubs boasted a pair of All-Stars who figured to offer the best bets for euphoria and salvation. Each team also had an ample number of role players who had proven themselves capable of taking and making the biggest of shots beneath the brightest of lights.
And then there was Daniels, a rookie who had played all of five games with the Rockets this season. Oh sure, the 22-year-old had set the D-League on fire, shattering 3-point records all over the place. But he had hardly been in Houston long enough to enjoy a cup of coffee with the big club and hadn’t played a single, solitary second during the first two games of this series. For most observers, he was thought to be an afterthought, a sharpshooting curiosity considered far too green to play a role in the postseason.
But you know what they say about desperate times and the measures typically required to combat them. The Rockets’ 0-2 hole demanded change. For the game’s first 49 minutes and 20 seconds, the insertion of Omer Asik into Houston’s starting lineup represented the most noteworthy and impactful tactical twist. But when Chandler Parsons picked up his sixth foul at the 3:40 mark of overtime, Houston head coach Kevin McHale was faced with yet another big decision. He chose Daniels. He chose … wisely.
That much was made apparent during the wildest moment of a game that delivered more than its fair share of untamed delirium throughout. With less than 20 seconds remaining and the tilt tied at 116, James Harden began his move to the basket only to lose control of the ball. For one fleeting, frozen moment, Portland looked certain to have the makings of an odd-man fast break, but Mo Williams tripped over the sprawling Harden and subsequently coughed up the rock himself, creating yet another layer of chaos to a possession gone utterly, hopelessly mad. Jeremy Lin had tumbled amid the tumult, too, only to find the ball bouncing right into his hands as he began to regain his bearings. He made a beeline for the basket, intending to feed the ball to Dwight Howard, who had broken free beneath the basket. But with a Portland defender blocking his path, Lin made a last second audible, kicking a pass instead to Daniels along the wing.
With that decision, and Daniels’ lightning quick release, the most improbable chapter in Houston’s playoff history was 27-feet of perfect form, spin and shooting poetry away from being written. All that remained was the inevitable rustling of the net as the ball nestled its way through the basket and a little character development.
Who is Troy Daniels? He’s a Roanoke, Virginia native who went undrafted last summer and spent the vast majority of the season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He is polite during interviews, but his answers are unfailingly brief and to the point - which works out just fine, really, because when it comes to Troy Daniels the basketball player, his fearlessness and approach speak volumes, as do the raves that were offered up by his coach and teammates immediately after the Rockets walked off the floor with a rousing and heart stopping 121-116 win.
“He’s got one of the sweetest jump shots I’ve ever seen,” said Parsons.
“Probably one of the best shooters in the NBA,” remarked Patrick Beverley.
“He’s saved our season,” added Harden.
McHale, meanwhile, focused less on the shooting stroke that has rapidly become the stuff of legend at Rockets’ practices, and more on the internal fortitude that helped transform Daniels from DNP-CD to playoff hero.
“He competes. He dives on the floor for balls. He’s a tough kid. He’s not the biggest guy but he’s tough. I’ll tell you what: at this time of year ‘tough’ makes up for a lot of stuff. The little fella might be slight of build but he’s a tough kid.”
Scrappy. Shooter. Season-saver. Each of those terms now describes Daniels in the wake of his shot that did the seemingly impossible: silence the the Moda Center cacophony while shaking this series at its very foundation. So, too, does coldblooded – an adjective wholly befitting a player who spent much of his season as a real life Viper.
Who is Troy Daniels? Portland surely wishes it never had cause to ponder that question in the first place. Because of him, the Blazers' stranglehold on this series has been loosened. Because of him, the Rockets have new life and restored hope.
In a game crying out for a hero, the fickle finger of fate settled upon an undrafted, 22-year-old rookie with 75 regular season minutes to his name. Troy Daniels is the one least likely. But he is also a threat. And with one lethal flick of his wrist, he helped ensure Houston would remain one as well.