How Troy Daniels saved more than just Game 3 for the Houston Rockets

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Troy Daniels always had his mind on the playoffs.

The Houston Rockets shocked Daniels by recalling him from the D-League on April 9. After all, his Rio Grand Valley were in the middle of a playoff series.

At least the Vipers had three days off between games, so Daniels tried to make the best of the situation and focused on Rio Grande’s next postseason game the following Saturday.

“It was a big surprise. We didn’t expect it during the playoffs,” Daniels told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I think it will prepare me for Saturday, boost my confidence a little more, and have me ready for Saturday’s game.”

The night of his call-up, Daniels made 4-of-6 3-pointers in a loss to the Denver Nuggets, scoring a then career-high 12 points. He spent one more game with the Rockets, and afterward, they sent him back down.

Daniels scored 30 points for the Vipers that Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa. By Saturday night, he was playing for the Rockets in Houston and back in the NBA for good.

Safe to say, his playoff confidence has remained in tact.

Daniels – an undrafted rookie from Virginia Commonwealth who didn’t sign an NBA contract until February, play in the league until March or play in the postseason until tonight – made the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in the Rockets’ 121-116 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

 

After dropping both games in Houston, the Rockets cut their series deficit 2-1 thanks to their surprising hero.

Daniels played just five regular-season games and not at all in Houston’s first two playoff games, but he acquitted himself well during two stints of action during regulation. So, when Chandler Parsons fouled out in overtime, Kevin McHale turned to the little-used rookie.

For most of the extra period, Daniels deferred. But when James Harden – who called Game 3 the Rockets’ season and then backed it up by scoring 37 points – lost his dribble in the final seconds, Daniels aggressively slid from the corner to the elbow and held his hands high above his head to give a passing target. Jeremy Lin scooped up the loose ball and kicked it to Daniels.

Daniels’ first inbounds touch of overtime gave the Rockets their first win of these playoffs.

Not only did his shot put the No. 4-seed Houston squarely back in this series, it restored faith in the entire Rockets system.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey, an unapologetic believer in analytics, has always been a target for old-school thinkers. They dismissed his constant roster tinkering, questioned his team’s complete negligence of mid-range shots and reiterated that stars – not numbers – determine NBA wins.

Well, Morey got the stars, trading for Harden before last season and signing Dwight Howard (24 points and 14 rebounds) this offseason.

But the Trail Blazers also have a couple stars in LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points and 10 rebounds) and Damian Lillard (30 points, six rebounds and six assists). If only the number of stars determined a game’s victor, this one would have gone to infinite overtimes.

Instead, Daniels ended it by taking one of those 3-pointers the Rockets love so much. Daniels probably had room to step forward a couple feet and attempt a slightly easier shot – albeit one worth 33 percent fewer points. By scoring from beyond the arc, Daniels made the Trail Blazers easier to guard on the other end.

Nicolas Batum missed a potential game-tying 3 with Howard contesting his shot and every Rocket geared toward the 3-point arc. Harden then hit a couple free throws to seal the win.

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On the other hand, Portland’s midrange maven struggled. After scoring 46 and 43 points in the series’ first two games, Aldridge shot just 8-for-22 tonight.

By roaming from the paint, Aldridge exchanges volatility for an ability to shoot unencumbered by double teams. When he’s hitting those shots, as he was in Games 1 and 2, he looks unstoppable. When he’s not, as was the case tonight, he can sap his team’s offense. Though the Trail Blazers scored well with Aldridge on the court tonight (112.3 points per 100 possessions), they scored even better with him off it (129.4).

Plus, by not venturing all the way out to the 3-point arc, Aldridge loses the extra-point-per-make protection that comes with his streakiness. There’s a reason people like Morey don’t like mid-range shots, even if Aldridge is one of the rare exceptions who justifies taking them at high volume.

And, of course, Morey’s frequent back-end roster moves paid off. He even waived veteran Ronnie Brewer – a key piece for playoff teams in Chicago and Utah – to sign Daniels in March. Morey saw a player who made 40 percent of his 3-pointers while attempting nearly nine per game during his senior year at Virginia Commonwealth and then put him in a unique D-League system. It spit out this:

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Daniels, who finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting (all 3-point attempts, naturally), is the postseason’s most-unlikely hero. But the fifth-seeded Trail Blazers remain in an unlikely place, too – up 2-1 on Houston. Daniels extended the Rockets’ season, but he hasn’t guaranteed them anything other than a Game 5.

Momentum has swung, though. The Rockets blew an 11-point lead with eight minutes remaining, and they still left the court in smiles.

Numbers don’t capture everything, and Troy Daniels – bred in Havoc, groomed in Hidalgo and beaming in the Rose City – showed that with every oversized joyous embrace he received from his teammates following the win that still leaves Houston trailing.

PBT Extra: Two months from trade deadline watch DeAndre Jordan and… Paul George?

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The NBA trade deadline got moved up this season to Feb. 8 so the league can avoid the spectacle of DeMarcus Cousins being traded during the All-Star Game and then doing an uncomfortable press interview afterward where he had to be told of the situation.

That means we are less than two months away from the trade deadline, and in this PBT Extra I look at the big names that could be on the market.

The Clippers seem likely to move DeAndre Jordan, the only questions are where and what will they get back? But three other teams have big decisions to make about their stars: Oklahoma City with Paul George, New Orleans with DeMarcus Cousins, and Memphis with Marc Gasol. Right now none of those guys are on the market, but that could change.

Trey Lyles dunks on Jayson Tatum then disrespects him far worse (video)

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Trey Lyles made a nice play in the Nuggets’ loss to the Celtics last night, driving by Jayson Tatum then dunking on him.

On the other hand, that swirl around Tatum’s head was not very nice at all.

Three Things to Know: Paul George returns to Indiana, gets bailed out by OKC defense

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Paul George returns to Indiana, gets booed, and gets win… thanks to Thunder defense. Russell Westbrook got his triple-double (10 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists). Paul George got some measure of satisfaction with a win on a night he returned to Indiana and was booed mercilessly by the Pacer faithful.

But George didn’t earn them this win, at least on the offensive end. This was a typical Thunder win because it was their elite defense bailing out an unimpressive offense. Again. The Thunder’s big trio of Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony remained in an offensive funk they cannot shoot their way out of, going a combined 10-of-45 from the floor Wednesday, or 22.2 percent.

What the Thunder can fall back on is their defense — second best in the NBA this season (100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Indiana came into the game with a top-10 offense and OKC held them in check. The Pacers scored 7.7 points per 100 less than they have averaged for the season. Victor Oladipo, who had been destroying teams for a week, shot 9-of-26 on the night with George as the primary defender on him most of the game. However, Oladipo did lead a charge from 11 down with just more than 5 minutes to go to make it a game late. Then came the big play of the game: Down three with 10 seconds to go, the Pacers tried to get the ball to Oladipo, but it was George who tipped and stole the inbounds pass, followed by hit two free throws after being fouled, to ice the game.

The Thunder got a huge performance from Steven Adams, who had 23 points but more importantly nine offensive rebounds — Oklahoma City grabbed the offensive board and got a second chance on 35.4 percent of their missed shots, and that was the difference in this game.

This didn’t feel like a game where the Thunder turned any corners, but it’s a win on the road and the Thunder will take that without asking any questions.

2) Rockets have yet to lose since Chris Paul returned, win streak reaches 11 after beating Charlotte. It’s not as simple as “Chris Paul came back and Houston can’t lose.” First off, they were winning a lot before he came back. Second, if you’re going to credit something credit the Houston defense, which has been the best in the NBA over the last 11 games (allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions).

That said, Chris Paul dropped 31 points and 11 assists on Charlotte, torched the Hornet defense, and did it effortlessly as always.

It’s this simple: Houston is a legit contender and the team best poised to knock off Golden State this postseason. How they match up with the Warriors in a series is a question left for late May. We’re a long way from there. But that big question is not going to be answered until then, and the Rockets have answered all the other ones thrown at them so far.

3) Gordon Hayward got his boot off. Celtics’ fans fever dreams of Gordon Hayward returning from his horrific dislocated ankle injury in time for the playoffs — giving Boston a better shot at dethroning LeBron James and the Cavaliers — got a boost on Wednesday.

Hayward is out of his walking boot.

Not to put a damper on those dreams (well, kind of actually) Hayward himself said if things don’t progress he will be back in the boot, and there remains no official timetable for his return. Hayward, his agent, and the Celtics have all said not to expect him back this season… but if you’re a dreaming Celtics fan that just sounds like a PR statement, a managing of expectations so butts are covered if he’s not back.

Hayward is reportedly working hard on his rehab. He talked to Kobe Bryant and Paul George early in the process, guys who know about bouncing back from injury, and both told him to go at rehab hard every day like it was preparing for a game. Do everything the doctors and trainers say. There would be good days, bad days, but work the process. By all accounts, Hayward is doing just that.

And that still doesn’t mean he will be back for these playoffs. We all saw that injury, right? If he’s not back this season, nobody should blink. That was nasty. But he is out of his boot and walking normally, and that’s a good sign because what everyone wants to see is him back on the court. Whenever it happens.

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.