In the third quarter of what was a fairly tight game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rockets guard Patrick Beverley got leveled by OKC center Steven Adams. Adams, dipping his shoulder into Beverley's head on a hard screen, sent the guard crumpling to the floor. Seconds later, Beverley popped up and within minutes, the game had gone from nail biter to blowout, the Rockets cruising to a 31-point victory in game one of the playoffs.
In the locker room, Beverley was asked about the incident. He looked directly into the camera and said, "Good screen, Steve."
Watching Beverley's tenaciousness and realizing his background as an un-drafted free agent whom Rockets GM Daryl Morey essentially discovered playing in a Russian league, it is difficult not to draw a comparison between the feisty Rockets guard and another former Rocket.
While Twitter fans felt Beverley may have been channeling Vernon Maxwell on Monday night, the more striking resemblance was to a different former Rocket: Mario Elie.
Elie had bounced around the globe, amassing frequent flyer miles and a handful of languages before emerging back in the NBA. When he landed in Houston, the same season owner Leslie Alexander acquired the team, it drew little attention around the league or even here locally. In fact, almost no one showed up at the press conference.
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But what Elie brought to the team was invaluable. Not only was he a tenacious defender on a team loaded with them, but he was a scrappy, never-back-down guy who took the toughest defensive assignment most nights. Certainly bigger than Beverley, Elie was never the less an accurate outside shooter with a quick step to the basket and a knack for the big moment. He went on to spend five seasons in Houston as an integral part of the Rockets back-to-back titles in the early '90s.
Those championship teams were full of intense personalities, but Elie was a stabilizing force, adding passion minus the volatility of teammates like Maxwell. He was also comfortable in his role as enforcer, shooter and consummate tough guy.
These current Rockets don't have quite the level of scrappiness in them as those title squads. They score in the hundreds instead of the eighties and rely on finesse more than gritty defense. But both have that unique combination of transcendent superstar and hard-scrabble underdog. Beverley, like Elie, can defend with the best of them, his determination (much like Elie's) born out of toiling away in obscurity before reaching the NBA. He is fearless, the guy you most want on your team and hate worst when he isn't. He can also hit threes and seems to relish the pressure of the biggest moments.
As the Rockets began to dismantle the Thunder Monday night, Beverley hit a pair of corner three pointers. After the second, he stood in front of Texans defensive star JJ Watt and screamed, doing his best Wolverine impersonation. It wasn't exactly the Kiss of Death, but it was a not-so-subtle reminder to longtime fans that this team has its own Junkyard Dog.