HOUSTON – The eyes of the most wanted man in Oklahoma City grew wider and wider now, the stitches across his eyebrow bobbing with the laughter washing over him.
"To see me?" Patrick Beverley responded with mock excitement. "They're going to be ecstatic. I know they're going to love that."
Beverley keeps stepping between the Oklahoma City Thunder and their chase for a championship. They will forever remember Beverley as the man responsible for cutting down Russell Westbrook, costing him season-ending knee surgery. They will forever remember Westbrook pounding that scorer's table, limping away and leaving Kevin Durant without his running mate.
Moments before the Thunder's Serge Ibaka missed a layup at the buzzer of a 105-103 loss, they will remember Beverley sliding his feet, getting between Durant and a driving basket to push Game 4 into overtime on Monday night. This was a charge to spare the Rockets a sweep at the Toyota Center, to drag the Thunder back to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night for Game 5.
[Related: Serge Ibaka misses tying putback at buzzer]
Somehow, the Rockets survived on a night that Durant was brilliant and James Harden abysmal. Beverley is gobbling up the minutes left behind from Jeremy Lin, whose deeply bruised chest won't allow him to lift his arms over his head to shoot the ball. People want to believe Lin has bailed on the Rockets, but make no mistake: The organization – front office, coaches and players – believe he had been the toughest guy in the room for trying to play Game 3.
Privately, Lin understood he probably shouldn't have tried to play, but he was determined to play a part in the biggest game of the season. Only, it got so bad on Monday that the organization believed he could further injure the chest with a re-aggravation. In a last-ditch try within an hour of the game, those watching him shoot in the practice gym agreed: It was futile.
"There was nothing else he could've done," general manager Daryl Morey told Yahoo! Sports. "He tried. He had no choice."
Somehow, the season rolls onto Oklahoma City and it had the Thunder seething here. Westbrook should be awaiting his teammates upon their return, and they'll be thrilled to see him. After his surgery in Colorado on Saturday, Westbrook watched Game 3 with his agent, Thad Foucher. He was his typical effusive self, barking defensive calls into the TV set.
Rest assured, Westbrook wants no part of watching Patrick Beverley get over on the Thunder inside his arena. Enough's enough. "He's a tough kid," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of Beverley. "He's not afraid to take shots. He's not afraid to make shots. He's not afraid to make plays."
Outside his locker on Monday night, the smile curled over Beverley's mouth. As the Rockets guards go, Beverley (16 points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers) had been far better in every way than Harden (15 points, three assists and an ungodly 10 turnovers).
Out of nowhere, Beverley refuses to stop impacting this series and suddenly is turning into a cornerstone player for the Rockets' future. For now, he'll simply be the most hated man in Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night. Nevertheless, Beverley promises it won't be the most volatile setting of his young career. At 24 years old, he's been to basketball oblivion and back, and these circumstances bring out the ferocity with him.
"I've been in the middle of the Greek-Turkish battles overseas," Beverely insisted. "There's nothing that I won't have seen before. Hey, I hope they don't throw change at me."
That's happened to him overseas, but those days are over. No one can touch him in Oklahoma City, and it'll drive them wild there. This goes for Russell Westbrook, too. This series should be over, but Patrick Beverley won't stop hitting people, hitting shots, and so it goes onto a Game 5.
"This is fun," Beverley said. Yes, this is the time of his life. Let the hate tumble down on him Wednesday night, let him absorb it all. He keeps giving it back to the Thunder, keeps making them sick to see him over and over. For this season, for this championship chase, he's been the Thunder's worst nightmare.
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