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Veteran Terry steps up just when Rockets need him most

Showing much-needed toughness, guard comes off bench to spark inconsistent Houston's 88-84 victory over red-hot San Antonio

POSTED: Dec 26, 2015 1:58 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


— If visions of sugarplums ever really danced in J.B. Bickerstaff's head, they would surely be 38 years old and come with a headband and an attitude.

Jason Terry is long past the days of being the shiny new toy. He has stockings that have hung from chimneys far longer than some of his teammates have hung around the planet.

So even after the Rockets had spent most of the night standing toe-to-toe and going push-to-shove with the Spurs, there came a time to seal the deal and the closer had to come out of the attic.

It wasn't just Terry's nine points and three steals in the last 10½ minutes of the bone-jarring 88-84 victory Friday night at the Toyota Center. It was the way he did everything. Like he owned the place.

Ever since the shocking 5-10 start to the season that got coach Kevin McHale fired, the Rockets have been trying to convince everybody, including themselves, that they're really a very good team, capable of getting back again to the Western Conference finals.

Trouble is, since the opening tip back in October, every time the Rockets have put another stake in the ground with a signature win over the Thunder, at Dallas or sweeping a pair of duels from the Clippers, they have also put a stake or a half dozen into their own foot. A combined 0-5 record against the lowly Nuggets and Nets. A whipping in Sacramento. A comeback that came up just short in Orlando.

You don't get to call yourself a real contender until you stop pretending to show up consistently and take the job seriously every night. Dwight Howard and James Harden talk the talk.

That's what I've prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment.

– Jason Terry

"The Jet" puts his arms out at his sides and takes flight on the wings of drive and emotion that have carried him into a 17th NBA season.

"That's what I've prided myself on, being ready, always stepping up to the moment," Terry said. "In big moments like tonight when my team needed me most, I want to show up and be effective."

He buried a big 3-pointer. He hit a mid-range jumper from the wing. He stepped into the San Antonio passing lanes to snatch away three balls to get the Rockets headed in the other direction.

But now, more than being the fire-starter in a big holiday event — the first time the Rockets hosted a home Christmas Day game since moving to Houston in 1971 — Terry's task and bigger challenge will be to instill a sense of every day urgency that goes from the locker room out onto the court. Even in too many of their wins this season, the Rockets have started games lazily and had to come scrambling back from double-digit holes. Which is why this latest so-called statement win lifts their record back to just 16-15.

Harden's pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers were big and it's good to know that you've got that arrow in your quiver, but it can't be enough to think he'll be able to bail you out game after game with offensive heroics. And it was Terry's spark that ignited the flame.

Terry had been inserted into the starting lineup for the first four games after Bickerstaff took over the team. But as the team kept struggling, the interim coach began to shuffle his guards like a casino dealer until finally he turned Terry back face up in this one. In fact, the veteran has played less than 15 minutes in 11 games this season and also has six DNPs, including the previous game, which the Rockets lost at Orlando. That's now likely to change.

You can't speak enough about him. He's a class guy. He's a winner. He's a champion. He's a leader. He'll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win.

– Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff

"I just feel like we need him on the floor," Bickerstaff said. "There's times where he needs the rest, obviously. But big moments in big games, he's one of the guys that I trust the most. I trust not only that he'll do the right thing, but I trust that he'll perform and then I trust that he'll carry his teammates in a positive direction.

"You can't speak enough about him. He's a class guy. He's a winner. He's a champion. He's a leader. He'll sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. That's what he does. That's who he is. Every since I've known him he's been that way."

From Atlanta to Dallas to Boston to Brooklyn to the Rockets, the little airplane act that is often annoying to opponents lets you know that Terry never loses sight of how important it is for a team to maintain a steady altitude. The hope is that it can rub off.

"No question," Terry said. "That's my sole purpose and that's the way I carry myself and that's why I go out every night, whether I'm a DNP or I play 30 minutes, I try to bring the same positive energy and be effective."

"This is what we've been striving for," Bickerstaff said. "This is what we've been working and building towards. We've shown it in spurts, but we haven't been able to sustain it long enough. Maybe over a game, but putting together five games in a row of this play, when we play this way.

"No matter who our opponent is, we [have to] play this way. Our group is very capable and we're capable of winning games different ways. It's just important that we do it all the time, whatever it is — the preparation, the mentality, the mindset."

Of Terry.

Bickerstaff said it's the way Terry has been playing "for 35 years."

That would, of course, mean that he must have been one feisty 3-year-old.

"Yeah, I was bad," the grinning Terry said. "I was shooting jumpers in my diapers, I guess."

Already displaying the wisdom beyond his years that the Rockets need to show them a thing or two.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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