On Monday night, the Rockets were in Toronto, trying to win a basketball game, which it just so happens is something they haven't done in that city since sometime during the Yao Ming era. They still haven't. They lost the game 99-96, and while every game is crucial right now in the Western Conference playoff race, Monday's news will be remembered more for what (or whom) they lost in the bigger picture.
While the Rockets were in Toronto losing that game to the Raptors, Patrick Beverley was on a Southwest flight from Chicago (his hometown) back to Houston. I know this because my 15-year-old son happened to be on his flight. My son (a HUGE Pat Bev fan) texted me to tell me Beverley was on the flight. His assessment of Bev's mood?
"He looks kind of sad," my son said.
That would stand to reason, since presumably Beverley was a mere few hours removed from the news that we all found out after he did -- Patrick Beverley's 2014-2015 season is over, the frustrating result of a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Beverley's Rockets career has generally been marked by two key attributes -- pit-bull-level intensity on defense and a mountain of nagging, now season-curtailing injuries. Truth be told, if this wrist injury were occurring this time last season, the city would be on the verge of basketball rioting, Beverley was that valuable a year ago at this time.
When Beverley went down with what looked like a playoff-run-ending injury to his knee against the Portland Trail Blazers, the entire Toyota Center held its collective breath. Beverley's defense was going to be that critical if the team wanted to make a run in the postseason. As it turned out, the postseason lasted only six games, ironically ended by a dagger three from Portland point guard Damian Lillard in Game 6 of that opening-round series.
In 2014-2015, Beverley's importance to the Rockets' long-term fortunes has been dialed back somewhat, in part because of the usual spate of bumps and bruises taking its toll, but also because the emergence of James Harden as the do-everything engine for the Rockets offense essentially has made Beverley one of a handful of interchangeable jump shooters on that end of the floor. So the Rockets lose virtually nothing offensively when Beverley is swapped out for, say, Jason Terry. (Hell, you could argue they get better offensively with Terry in there.)
It's the defensive end where the concerns over losing Beverley come in, especially considering this is the lineup of point guards on the other seven likely Western Conference playoff teams -- Steph Curry, Mike Conley, Lillard, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook. The duty of defending those players now falls on some combination of Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni (a pair whose average age is roughly 63) and/or rookie Nick Johnson, who's got some good defensive tools but has spent more time in the D League than with the Rockets this season.
On the surface, that's a scary proposition. That said, if you're looking for statistical placebos to make you feel better, there is this one, heading into last night's game:
Rockets defense this season Pat Beverly on floor: 102.3 points per 100 possessions Pat Beverly off floor: 98.1 points per 100 possessions— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) March 30, 2015
Those are the numbers. However, anyone who watches the Rockets knows that there is a certain toughness Beverley brings that is difficult to quantify. "We'll miss Pat in a lot of different ways," Rockets coach Kevin McHale told reporters yesterday. "He brings a lot of toughness. He's been really good for us slowing down guys the last couple of years. But we'll use all the resources we have and figure out what we need to do that night."
Beverley injured his left wrist on March 23 against Indiana and has spent the past week or so seeking second opinions regarding playing through the injury or having surgery. He is averaging 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game this season.
The loss of Beverley adds to an already mind-boggling list of injury woes for the Rockets, who have spent massive chunks of the season without center Dwight Howard (knee) and forward Terrence Jones (knee and now out with punctured lung), and are now dealing with a back injury to forward Donatas Motiejunas.
All of them should be back near full strength for the post-season, but it speaks to the depth built by General Manager Daryl Morey and the greatness of James Harden that they currently stand even in the loss column for the number two seed in the West. However, if they are going to make a deep post-season run, it will be without the services of their starting point guard.