Troy Daniels did not play in the first two games of the Houston-Portland first-round series. He worked only five regular-season games with the Houston Rockets after being called up from the team's D-League affiliate in Rio Grande. He wouldn't have even been on the court toward the end of Houston's must-win Game 3 had Chandler Parsons not fouled out earlier in overtime.
There Daniels was, though, with 11 seconds left in the game – doing exactly as he's done all year, for whichever team. Spotting up, following through, letting it go from long range. Daniels nailed a game-winning 3-pointer off a broken play and mad scramble for Houston, saving his new team's season, giving the Rockets a chance to tie the 2-1 series heading into Game 4 on Sunday.
Daniels set a D-League record for the most 3-pointers in a season after going undrafted out of Virginia Commonwealth in 2013. The hybrid guard was waived by the Charlotte Bobcats in training camp, but the NCAA's record-holder for most threes in a game fit right into the Rio Grande Valley Vipers' analytics-driven obsession with the long range shot. After playing just 75 minutes all season for the Rockets, nailing 48 percent of his treys along the way, the 22-year-old seemed to rank as an afterthought in coach Kevin McHale's rotation.
That changed in Game 3, as Houston went to Daniels early and often. With James Harden struggling to score efficiently and the Rockets needing spacing badly with the promotion of Omer Asik to starting power forward, McHale made the call to place Daniels in the lineup for 20 minutes on Friday night. Typical to his game, each of Daniels' looks came from long range, as he hit two out of five 3-pointers before downing the game-deciding shot in overtime.
Houston did well to maintain its edge while working in front of a rabid Portland crowd. Once again, the team too often went away from its pick-and-roll featuring Harden and center Dwight Howard, but the Rockets kept making opportunistic baskets – hitting 12 of 31 3-pointers and repeatedly finding Howard for both lob dunks or quick-hit post-ups. Dwight finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds in the win.
The Rockets also benefited from LaMarcus Aldridge coming back to earth a bit. The All-Star Blazers forward still played well, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds while at times playing solid defense on Howard, but he was nowhere near the form that saw him toss in 89 points over the first two games of the series. The endless array of long perimeter bombs that he tossed up in Howard and Asik's face in the first two games just weren't falling this time around, as LMA needed 22 shots to get to those 23 points.
This series continues to be the NBA's most evenly matched thus far. Friday marked the second time in three games that the teams went to an overtime frame, and even though Portland was just one loose ball scrum (the one that resulted in Daniels' game-clinching trey) away from taking a commanding 3-0 lead, this really has been a coin flip of a series. On top of the competitive angle, the spacing and scoring acumen both teams provide in spades has made this perhaps the most entertaining of what has been a very good initial playoff run for the NBA.
And now we have a nice little storyline twist, with an unheralded minor league call-up – one that still hasn't played triple-digit NBA minutes at this point – absolutely saving Houston's season with one splash from 25 feet. Welcome to the podium, Troy Daniels.
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