In one dramatic play Friday night, a rookie found a home and a struggling guard found some redemption.
Troy Daniels saw his first playing time of the series, and on the big stage in hostile territory at the biggest moment, he knocked down the game-winner as the Rockets beat the Blazers 121-116, cutting Portland’s lead in the series to 2-1.
Daniels, who came into the postseason having played just 76 minutes in his NBA career, showed no fear whatsoever, even calling for the ball to take that shot.
“No hesitation,” said Daniels. “When you’re a shooter, you can’t hesitate. If I would have hesitated, we would have probably lost the game.”
If you’ve been listening to our podcasts, you know we love Troy Daniels. He is exactly the kind of role player (much like Patrick Beverley) that the Rockets should be stockpiling and playing because he brings an elite skill (three-point shooting) that fills a pressing need. As far as 30 feet out, you must keep a defender near Daniels because he can smoke you from that deep. We’ve been wondering when Kevin McHale would finally turn to him. The Rockets came into Game 3 shooting just 21.6% from long range — and it wasn’t like they were playing top notch defense.
But it wasn’t only Daniels that was heroic on that play. We have to set the stage to fully understand how poetic it was that Jeremy Lin made a key, game-winning play.
With 54 seconds left in regulation and the Rockets up three, Wesley Matthews missed a three that would have tied the game. Dwight Howard got the board and handed it to Jeremy Lin. With the clock now their best ally, Lin instead saw a seam and an opportunity to be aggressive, opting to try to get past four Blazers.
And he did, getting just a half step ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge. But Lin, going about 120mph, was a little too hard on the layup attempt. Nic Batum then got the board, ran it the other way and nailed a triple to even the game at 110. And just like that, the clock defriended the Rockets.
Yes, Lin could have made that shot, but this is like faking a punt while holding a lead late in the game on a 4th-and-5 play deep in your own territory, then trying to justify it by saying a guy was wide open. He made his decision from 75 feet away with several Blazers between him and the basket, and that’s the questionable part. Lin could have stood inside the half court line, completely dribbling out the shot clock, and the Rockets would have been better off, leaving 32 seconds on the game clock for the Blazers, needing a three to tie, to go up against Houston’s set defense.
So when the Rockets went to overtime, fairly or unfairly, there was pressure on Lin.
That’s what makes the final seconds of overtime so sweet. While Daniels gets (and deserves) a ton of credit for knocking down the shot, it was Lin that saved the team’s bacon.
With 18 seconds left in overtime and the game even at 116, Harden lost the ball. You could see a back-breaking turnover unfold in slow-motion, but Lin suddenly hit fast forward. In a play you would think would come from Beverley, Lin didn’t hesitate in the slightest. With lightning quickness, he pounced on the ball, trucking Mo Williams in the process (made even sweeter given some of the intentionally hard fouls that Williams was giving Dwight earlier in the game).
Lin not only got the ball, he was aware of the shot clock, which had just five seconds left by the time he got it. Lin bounced up immediately, cut into the lane at the free throw line and found Daniels for the game-winner.
While many are praising the pass, it was the ball save and recovery that were simply brilliant. The Rockets either go to double overtime or lose this game if Lin doesn’t make this play, and like Daniels’ quick trigger, Lin’s timely play is summed up in two words: No hesitation.