The scene is stripped bare of pretense and artifice. There are no screaming crowds or laser lights. It simply offers a brief glimpse into the life of someone doing precisely what they were put on this planet to do. You hear it in Nicks’ voice and you see it in her eyes. For those precious two minutes and thirty seconds, you’re watching the expression of pure joy. That is what makes the video so riveting.
And that (for those of you wondering how this belongs in a basketball column) also happens to be the element which makes this particular Rockets’ team such a thrill to observe. It most definitely was on full display Sunday night in Los Angeles, while Houston was in the process of knocking off the defending champion Lakers 101-91 in front of their shocked (and lifeless) fans.
There’s just something about this group which grabs and demands your attention. Forget for a moment their style of play, even though it unquestionably appeals to the senses as well. Just go micro for a minute and check out the finer details. Watch the way Aaron Brooks happily skips down the court after knocking down a three-pointer on his way to torching the Lakers for a career-high 33 points. Listen to the roar unleashed by Kyle Lowry after grabbing two offensive rebounds on one possession and then finishing it off with an and-one. See how the bench deliriously responds in unison to every big play the Rockets produce. This, then, is basketball as an expression of pure joy. And it’s a sight to behold.
“We just play team ball,” says Brooks. “That’s the way the game is supposed to be played. That’s the way it was invented. We don’t have the superstars or that one go-to guy at the end of the game, so we have to play collectively. Any game it can be anybody.”
Adds Lowry: “We’re happy to be around each other. I think we all feel that way and when you feel like that, you just go out there, play hard and try to win games because that’s all that matters. It helps everything. It helps the camaraderie and everything you could possibly think of. It’s fun to be out there with a group of guys like this. When you bring what you have off the court on to the court, it’s magical.”
That description certainly applies to the events which unfolded at Staples Center Sunday night. Just check out the Rockets’ complete and utter domination of the boards, where Houston outrebounded L.A. 60-38 despite the Lakers’ significant advantage in the size department. Survey the way the Rockets responded after falling behind 16-2 to start the game during an opening eerily reminiscent of last season’s nightmare Game 7 elimination contest. They could have wilted. Instead they rose. Examine Trevor Ariza’s effort, which never once waned despite an off night (2-12 shooting) on the offensive end, especially during a key first quarter possession when he didn’t simply settle for blocking Kobe Bryant’s shot, he stole the ball from him too.
And last but certainly not least, recognize yet another sterling performance from the Rockets’ bench. David Andersen was a revelation, not just because he poured in a career-high 19 points, but also for his willingness to battle Andrew Bynum down low. Then throw in Carl Landry’s double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds), Chase Budinger’s all-around game (11 points, 6 boards, 3 assists) and Lowry’s virtuoso playmaking (8 assists) and you’ve got the recipe behind Houston’s 48-18 shellacking of the Lakers in bench points, in addition to the perfect response to Friday’s disappointing performance in Sacramento.
“I talked to Carl and Chase and told them we can’t ever have a game like the one we had in Sacramento again,” said Lowry.
Apparently that message was received loud and clear.
Sunday’s win is sure to kick off another steady stream of “the little team that could” stories, for such is life when you’re a relatively star-less squad unencumbered by great expectations. Words like “heart,” “hustle,” and “hard-working” will be tossed Houston’s way which, while complimentary (and accurate), often tend to thinly veil the fact that the giver of such bouquets believes the beneficiary is overachieving with a roster of middling talent. Don’t be so deceived. These guys can play, as the rest of the league is (hopefully) beginning to learn. What’s more: they love to play together.
How much is that worth in the win column? Thus far it’s been good for a 6-4 record which includes a handful of quality victories over top-notch competition. And we’re sure to learn much more about this club in short order with the red-hot Phoenix Suns coming to town Tuesday, kicking off a 4 games in 5 nights stretch certain to tax the Rockets both physically and mentally.
But when you love what you’re doing, you’re more likely to embrace those challenges rather than shrink from them. And there’s no question these guys are having a blast, as evidenced by their actions both on the court – and off.
Following the euphoric bus ride back to the team hotel after the game, several Rockets’ players and staff made their way over to In-N-Out Burger (because where else would you celebrate a big win?) for a late-night meal. Just as Jermaine Taylor was preparing to order his food at the counter, late-arrival Aaron Brooks suddenly burst into the restaurant and bounced onto the rookie’s shoulders from behind. The playful greeting couldn’t help but conjure images of the exuberant enthusiasm Brooks and his teammates had shared on the Staples Center court hours earlier.
Both scenes left the lasting impression of pure joy.
And the only way to describe it: Riveting.