Aaron Brooks knows what many of you think.
You fear the Rockets' new starting point guard is too small to defend big guards, like Dallas' 6-foot-4, future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd on Friday night. You expect him to be worked over in the post. You wonder if he's too young to lead a veteran playoff team, and doubt if his aggressive style can fit with a first unit full of other scorers.
At least for one night, none of those fears was realized. Not even a little bit.
In his debut as Houston's regular starting point guard, Brooks thoroughly outplayed Kidd and sparked the Rockets to a huge second half, helping them overcome a 16-point deficit to post a 93-86 victory over the Mavs in a matchup of playoff contenders. Brooks led the way with 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds, all while calmly drilling two huge three-pointers down the stretch to put the game away.
"You have to remember it goes two ways," Brooks said regarding questions of his size and defense. "Bigger guards have to guard me too, and I know I have an edge in quickness on the other end, and I'm ready to take advantage."
After dominating the Mavs via quickness and dribble penetration for most of the night, he took his game to the perimeter in the closing seconds. With the Rockets clinging to a three-point lead and time running down, Brooks stepped underneath a screen from Luis Scola and swished a trey with 24 seconds remaining, giving the Rockets a 92-86 lead.
You could say he makes big shots, as coach Rick Adelman said. Shane Battier, however, took a more blunt approach.
"He's got cojones," Battier said.
On a night in which Brooks began by thoroughly dissecting the Dallas defense and finished with two back-breaking threes, the Mavs had rave reviews.
"We've seen him before and he's torn us up," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's relentless. You can't take a break against him."
"Aaron Brooks is going to be a great player," said Jose Barea, who led Dallas with 26 points off the bench. "I'm really a big fan of his and with this opportunity he can take his game to another level."
When the Rockets dealt Rafer Alston to Orlando minutes before Thursday's trade deadline, they effectively passed the leadership torch to Brooks, a generously-listed 6-foot, 160-pound guard in his second season out of Oregon.
Sure, they acquired Kyle Lowry in the deal from Memphis, and Lowry is a player general manager Daryl Morey has coveted for years. But with only 28 games remaining, it's not the time to break in a new face for starter's minutes, according to head coach Rick Adelman.
"I think you have to say Aaron's the starter," Adelman said. "He's the one that's been here and knows what we're doing. He's stepped up against some pretty good players.
"But you would hope that both will give us the same thing -- a consistency in the way we're going to play. Now we can try to push the ball more and create a different pace than we had and that was difficult to do, before."
On their first night together, the new point guard tandem did exactly that. Brooks and Lowry routinely drove into the paint, collapsing the Dallas defense and leaving scoring opportunities for players such as Yao Ming, who scored a game-high 22 points to go with 13 rebounds, and Luis Scola, who collected 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
They also weren't fazed by the early deficit, and the transition game allowed them to make up points in a hurry. Late in the third quarter, Brooks finished a fast break by dishing to Battier for an open trey from the right wing, capping a 24-6 burst by the Rockets that turned the once 16-point deficit into an 11-point lead. That brought a standing ovation from the sell-out crowd of 18,195.
"I was really impressed and proud of the young point guards because they led us to victory," Artest said. "We were down 16 and they stayed poised. We played like veterans tonight."
One of the most repeated clichés in sports is that defense wins championships.
But if you ask Brooks, he prefers another cliché.
For him and for the Rockets, the best defense may be a good offense.
"When you have smaller guards, you find ways to compensate for it," said Battier, a defensive expert in his own right. "I'm not too worried about it.
"I don't think the Spurs are too concerned about their defensive matchups. They're fielded some of the best defensive teams in the league, and Tony [Parker] is no bigger than Aaron. You play to the strengths you have, which with Aaron is his speed and agility and those offset his size issues."
-- Ben DuBose
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