Rockets' role players thrive in closing act
HOUSTON – About 19 months ago, when Rick Adelman was preparing to walk into his first training camp as the new head coach of the Houston Rockets, there were a couple of guys on the roster he hoped would soon walk out.
was one of them.
After all, how could an offensive-minded coach even think of building a contender with a 6-foot-6 post man on his roster, whose shooting range is not as long as his own arms? How could anybody look at that undersized frame down among the tall trees under the basket and think it would take him anywhere?
Adelman’s sentiments were certainly understandable, because there’s hardly a coach on the planet who wants Hayes on his team.
That is, until he has him.
So with the Rockets clinging desperately to a two-point lead and 10.7 seconds showing on the clock Sunday night inside the howling Toyota Center, up came Hayes off the bench. Never mind that he had played less than four minutes to that point. In the postseason, it’s often not about how much, but when.
who had already scored 31 points, took the ball into his hands and plotted his course to the left of the basket, there was Hayes, already planning to intercept.
Roy first got an edge on defender
and then started a crossover move back to his right. Then he stretched out, leaned in and, at almost the same time that
swatted his shot, Roy plowed into Hayes and was called for a charge that saved the Rockets’ 89-87 win and gave them a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
“I’ve had a couple of those moments in my short career so far,” Hayes said. “It’s just instincts. My instincts took over. I saw that Roy had an edge and I told myself to just beat him to the restricted area. Then I got the call.
“It’s a timing deal. It’s such a gamble because if they call a block, with us not having a shot-blocker back there, he has a chance of getting a layup. It could easily be a three-point play. I took a gamble.”
Maybe the same way coaches keep thinking they’re taking a gamble on Hayes. Until the gamble pays off when they watch him do all of the dirty work, all of the little things, every single day.
With the Trail Blazers aggressively double-teaming
surrounding him, smothering him, this is the way the Rockets have had to build their lead in the series. They’ve had to get creative about how they get the ball inside to Yao in the low post. They’ve had to plot and scheme to gain this advantage on a young, athletic Portland team that so many thought were going to be the Los Angeles Lakers’ biggest challengers in the West.
If the Rockets are stealing this series from the Blazers, they might as well be a team of safe crackers spinning the dial and listening to hear the tumblers fall into place.
Click! There’s Battier making 3-point shots, including a back-to-back pair in the space of 64 seconds late in the fourth quarter.
the barely 6-foot backup point guard, shimmying up an invisible pole to grab critical offensive rebounds.
coming off the bench to scrap for five rebounds in just 12 minutes and to fearlessly drop in a jumper from the key with 2½ minutes remaining that gave the Rockets an 87-83 lead.
Click! There was Hayes, one of those unlikely heroes who steps out of the shadows to put his stamp on the playoffs.
“Do you remember in Game 1 of the playoffs two years ago in Utah?” asked Yao. “Same situation and Chuck makes the same play. He draws a charge on [Carlos] Boozer and we win. That’s why we have Chuck, for plays like that.”
Truth is, they have Hayes because he’s like one of those traveling salesmen who won’t take his foot out of the door.
After playing in college at Kentucky, Hayes was undrafted in 2005. He signed a free agent contract with the Rockets and was cut in camp. He went to play for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the D-League and then was re-signed by the Rockets to a 10-day contract in January 2006 and since then has never left.
Over the past four seasons, he’s dropped so many passes from
that should have been layups that T-Mac just shakes his head and smiles now. He’s got a shooting form at the free-throw line that looks to be part shot-put and part involuntary spasm.
But he’s got a nose for doing exactly the right thing at the right time.
“He’s incredible,” said Adelman. “I mean, the guy doesn’t play the whole game. I put him in there when the game is on the line and he sees that coming. I’ve seen him do that so many times.
“He makes me look really good when I put him in the game and that play happens. That’s Chuck.”
Which nobody ever realizes until he grows on them.