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.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.