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Gerald Green had long journey to Houston, Conference Finals

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HOUSTON (AP) — Gerald Green was at a crossroads.

Released by Milwaukee in training camp, the career journeyman couldn’t find another NBA team that wanted him.

He contemplated playing internationally and in the G League, but no one had any use for the over-30 player with almost a decade of NBA experience.

“I was honestly contemplating retirement,” he told The Associated Press. “A lot of people don’t know that, but I was done.”

So he contacted his agent to put an expiration date on his basketball career.

“I was like: ‘Look man, when Jan. 1, 2018, hits, if I’m unsigned, I’m putting out a big statement on my Instagram letting everybody know, thank you for the awesome career over all these years but I’m done,'” he said. “‘I ain’t going to play no more.'”

Just four days shy of his self-imposed deadline, Green received the call that would change everything: His hometown Houston Rockets wanted him.

“Basketball was the last thing on my mind until I got that call,” he said. “Then it’s kind of like … ‘Are you serious?'”

By then, the 32-year Green had already “mentally checked out” of basketball. He was spending his days doing work in real estate and teaming with rapper Trae Tha Truth to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

The Rockets took a chance on Green, and now he could make it pay off.

Green’s years as an underdog – along with his length and athleticism – could be just what Houston needs Wednesday night when the Rockets try to even up the Western Conference finals after losing Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors.

He knew when he joined the Rockets it was a shot at redemption – on many levels.

He was traded to Houston as a 22-year-old in 2008 but released a little more than two weeks later after appearing in just one game.

When Green came to the Rockets the first time, he acknowledges he had the wrong attitude. The young man who’d had a modest upbringing on the South side of Houston had money after being drafted in the first round in 2005, and was coming off a memorable performance in the dunk contest at the 2008 All-Star Game where he blew out a candle atop a cupcake that was balanced on the back of the rim before throwing down a two-handed slam.

“It was right place at the wrong time,” he said of his mini-stint with the Rockets. “I just wasn’t focused. I still wanted to go out and enjoy my success of getting to the NBA instead of me trying to enjoy the work process of getting better.”

In the years since, he bounced around with six other NBA teams and spent two years playing in Russia and China. When he returned to Houston, he knew from the first day that his second stint was going to be special.

“As soon as I walked in the door I felt like everybody had their arms open to me like: ‘We need a hug. Come on, man. We’ve been waiting on you,'” he said mimicking a hug with his long muscular arms.

And the feeling was certainly mutual.

“To know him is to love him,” Chris Paul said. “He’s one of those people that if you don’t like Gerald Green, you’re telling me a lot about yourself.”

It was a new feeling for Green, who said he felt like some of his previous teammates wondered why he was on the team and never fully embraced him.

“I get judged a lot,” he said. “Maybe because of the way I talk, the way I look, I’m real quick to say a lot of stuff that maybe people don’t understand because that’s just me. I’m not the type of person that’s scripted … but on this team since Day 1, I could say something (crazy) and they ain’t never judged me for that.”

Coach Mike D’Antoni had known of the lanky forward with a knack for 3-pointers for years, but wasn’t sure what to expect when Houston signed him off the street.

He didn’t have to wait long. The day after he signed he scored 18 points, and in his fourth game and Houston’s first of the season without James Harden, who was nursing a hamstring injury, Green put on a show. He scored 27 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers to help the Rockets to a win over Orlando. The next night he outdid himself, tying a career high with eight 3s and finishing with 29 points as Houston fell to Golden State.

Green, who played high school basketball in Houston, averaged more than 18 points in the seven games Harden was out.

He has continued to bring a spark off the bench, averaging 12.1 points in the regular season – his highest average since 2015. He credits his turnaround to the nurturing environment fostered by D’Antoni, who he calls a “confidence-giver.”

And despite his limited work, he’s become a fan favorite for his almost obsessive love for Houston.

Green arrives to almost every game in a jersey of one of Houston’s teams, and he has three tattoos that pay homage to the city. Running down the entire length of his left forearm is the word “Houston” in graffiti-style block letters. On the front of his left shoulder is ink replicating the sign for Interstate 45, a freeway that runs directly by where he was raised. The last one is a nod to the Houston Oilers, a baby blue oil derrick on the back of the same shoulder almost identical to the ones that once adorned their helmets.

But his representation of Houston doesn’t stop there. Each time he hits a 3-pointer, he contorts both of his hands into “H’s” and holds them high toward the crowd.

Says Harden: “He’s the most Houston person I know.”

Green thrilled fans earlier this season when he first got his hair braided into the “R” from the Rockets’ logo. Since then, he’s also sported braids that formed the star from the Houston Astros’ logo.

For the playoffs, he’s sticking with the Rockets’ logo and discussed his love of the city with the AP as hairstylist Sandra Finn spent almost 90 minutes creating the intricate design. He brags about never getting rid of his phone number with a Houston area code even as he moved around the world. Later he jokes that he might ask Finn to braid the city’s first area code “713” into his hair one day.

“Maybe I am biased, I don’t know, but hell I’d die for this damn city,” he said. “I really would, man. I love this city.”

 

Rockets blast Jazz 113-92 to take 2-1 series lead

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — James Harden had 25 points and 12 assists to lead Houston to a 113-92 win over Utah in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinals series on Friday night.

Eric Gordon added 25 points and Chris Paul had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Rockets. Houston beat Utah in Salt Lake City for the third time this season to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is on Sunday.

Royce O’ Neale scored 17 points. Alec Burks chipped in 14 points while Rudy Gobert added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Jazz.

Utah never got on track on offense. The Jazz shot poorly over the first three quarters and committed 16 turnovers. Houston scored 19 points off those turnovers.

On the heels of a listless first-half effort in Game 2, Houston avoided enduring another slow start. The Rockets picked apart Utah’s defense practically from the opening tip.

Houston opened the game by scoring baskets on six of its first seven possessions. Harden capped the flurry with his first basket to put the Rockets up 15-5. It only grew worse for the Jazz from there. The Rockets led by as many as 22 in the first quarter, taking a 37-15 lead on back-to-back baskets from Harden and Gerald Green.

Houston made 16 of its 26 shots in the first quarter and totaled 39 points in the period. As effective as the Rockets were on offense, their defense proved equally troublesome for Utah. They forced the Jazz to commit six turnovers before the second quarter and scored nine points off those turnovers.

Utah cut Houston’s lead 49-34 midway through the second quarter after O’ Neale scored three straight baskets to fuel a 9-0 run. Clint Capela ended the run with a dunk and the Rockets proceeded to outscore the Jazz 31-9 over a 10 minute stretch extending into the third quarter. They pushed their lead to 80-43 on a driving layup from Ariza with 8:01 left in the quarter.

 

Rockets easily overcome James Harden’s horrid shooting night, win Game 2 over Timberwolves

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James Harden shot 2-for-18 – the worst field-goal percentage (11%) on so many attempts in a playoff game in nearly a decade and the worst ever in a first-round game.

The Rockets still won by 20 because of their stout defense, a strong supporting star in Chris Paul and Harden’s foul-drawing ability.

Houston’s took a 2-0 series lead with a 102-82 win over the Timberwolves on Wednesday. Game 3 will be Saturday in Minnesota, but the top-seeded Rockets have seized firm control.

Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven first-round series have won it. There’s little reason to believe Houston will become the exception.

The Rockets are no longer as reliant on Harden, the likely MVP who seemed to wear down last postseason.

They buckled down defensively before letting up in a fourth quarter that was entirely garbage time. Houston forced more turnovers (16) than allowed assists (15) and contested shot after shot.

It’s becoming increasingly clear the Timberwolves have no quick solution to the Karl-Anthony Towns problem, and it’s not simply a matter of deciding to feed him more. Yes, he can get favorable post matchups against the Rockets’ switching scheme. But Minnesota lacks quality entry passers. The Timberwolves are also short on shooters and need him to spread the floor – even if that skill is less-helpful after a switch. Towns scored just five points in 24 minutes tonight.

His teammates were barely, if at all, better. The focus has turned to Towns, but this was a far-wider letdown.

On the other hand, Paul (27 points and eight assists) led Houston’s offense. Gerald Green (21 points and 12 rebounds) got hot. Even Harden (7-of-8 on free throws) chipped in thanks to his elite foul-drawing ability.

The Rockets aren’t always the most enjoyable team to watch, and that was the case tonight. Mostly, because they put this game out of reach long before it actually ended.

James Harden scores 44 points as Rockets beat Wolves 104-101

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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden scored 44 points and powered a big fourth-quarter run that allowed the Houston Rockets to outlast the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-101 on Sunday night in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series.

Minnesota scored four straight points to get within 3 with about 30 seconds left. Chris Paul added two free throws after that for Houston, but a tip-in by Karl-Anthony Towns got Minnesota back within 3. After a bad pass by Paul gave the Timberwolves a chance to tie it with 1.5 seconds left, Jimmy Butler‘s shot was short.

The Timberwolves had a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Houston used a 9-0 run, with the last seven points from Harden, to make it 94-86 with about four minutes to go. Harden, who also had a steal in that span, capped the run with a 3-pointer that prompted Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call a timeout.

Jeff Teague ended Minnesota’s scoring drought with two free throws after the timeout and added a 3-point play after a basket by Harden. Harden made another shot to give him 11 straight points for Houston before another basket by Teague.

Harden got Capela in on the scoring after that, finding him for an alley-oop that pushed the lead to 101-93 with less than three minutes left.

The top-seeded Rockets had their hands full with the No. 8 Timberwolves on a night where Houston made just 10 of 37 3-pointers. Harden made 7 of 12 3-pointers, but Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Paul combined to make just 3 of their 22 tries.

Houston kept All-Star big man Towns in check, limiting him to just eight points after he’d averaged 21.3 in leading the Wolves to their first playoff appearance since 2004. Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points to lead Minnesota.

The Wolves scored the first nine points of the second half to take a 56-54 lead. Tucker made a 3 for the Rockets after that, but Minnesota used a 6-1 spurt, with 3s from Wiggins and Teague, to go back on top 62-58.

The Rockets had managed just six points in the quarter when Gerald Green made a basket with to cut the lead to 1 with about five minutes left in the third. Derrick Rose added a bucket seconds later, but Houston scored six straight points after that to put Houston up 68-65. Harden got things going when he made a 3-pointer while being fouled by Rose and also made the free throw.

Minnesota led by a basket after a jump shot by Towns with about two minutes left in the quarter. Harden took over after that, scoring the last six points of the quarter to leave Houston up 76-72 entering the fourth.

Harden hit a 3-pointer before making a driving layup he was fouled on by Gorgui Dieng. Harden flexed each bicep twice while peering down at the muscles after the shot before making the free throw.

The Rockets swept the regular-season series 4-0, winning by an average of 15.8 points a game and it looked like this one might be another blowout early as the Rockets raced out to a 17-6 lead behind 10 early points from Clint Capela. But the Timberwolves got going after that and had tied it up by late in the first quarter.

The Rockets led 54-47 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Butler, who led the team by averaging 22.2 points in the regular season, finished with 13 points. … The Wolves made 8 of 23 3-point attempts. … Towns had 12 rebounds and two assists.

Rockets: Ryan Anderson missed the game with a sprained left ankle. Coach Mike D’Antoni said there was a chance he could return for Game 2, but that he would know more in the next couple of days. … Capela had 20 points and 10 rebounds at halftime, but was limited in the second half and added just four more points and two rebounds.

UP NEXT

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Watch Gerald Green’s three-pointer at buzzer giving Rockets 11th straight win

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HOUSTON (AP) — Gerald Green made a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Houston Rockets rallied from a 21-point, second-half deficit for a 104-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

The win was Houston’s 11th straight and extended Phoenix’s skid to 14 games.

James Harden hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 101-all with 12 seconds left before rookie Josh Jackson put Phoenix on top with a basket with 1.4 seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Trevor Ariza found Green in the corner and he knocked down the shot to extend Houston’s streak. Green’s teammates mobbed him after the shot and he ended up on his back on the court with a huge grin on his face.

Houston rested Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Nene after clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on Thursday with Golden State’s loss to Milwaukee. The Rockets that did play looked uninspired early against the team with the NBA’s worst record, and Houston trailed by 17 at halftime.

They began chipping away at the lead in the third, but never led in the second half until Green’s game-winner.

Harden had 28 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. P.J. Tucker added 18 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers.

Jackson had 27 points for the Suns, who haven’t won since Feb. 28, and Troy Daniels added 23.

The Suns were up by four with about a minute left after a basket by Daniels. Harden missed two free throws soon after that and Tucker made one of two to cut the lead to 101-98 with 46 seconds remaining.

Phoenix was up by 11 to start the fourth and remained up by that margin with about 8 minutes left before Houston scored seven points in a row to cut the lead to 89-85.

Jackson made a layup after that, but Houston scored the next five points, capped by a 3 from Tucker, to get within one with about 5 1/2 minutes left.

The Suns were up by 17 at halftime and had a 14-point lead early in the third when Daniels made three 3-pointers to power a 9-2 run and push the lead to 71-50 with about 8 minutes left in the quarter.

The Rockets finally found a bit of rhythm after that, using a 10-2 spurt to get within 73-60 midway through the quarter.

Joe Johnson scored the last four points of the third to cut Phoenix’s lead to 86-75 entering the fourth.

Tucker got Houston within 3 midway through the second quarter before Phoenix scored the next 12 points to push the lead to 49-34. Danuel House got things going with a 3-pointer and Jackson wrapped it up with seven straight points.

A free throw by Harden cut the lead to 12 later in the quarter, but the Suns scored the last five points of the second quarter to make it 57-40 at halftime.