Patrick Beverley's first NBA start might've been surprising, but so was his performance that was nearly enough to upset the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Houston Rockets' backup point guard started alongside Jeremy Lin in a 105-102 Game 2 loss, and he ended up finishing for Lin after the usual starter was lost to a chest contusion for the second half.
The final line was 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for the 6'1 guard.
It was in the first half that Beverley started to make himself known, diving for a steal as Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was about to call a timeout.
"Patrick's a tough little guy, man," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Like I said, it didn't take bumping knees with Russell to get him excited. He's already excited."
There were other tension-filled moments in the matchup with Westbrook, but Beverley didn't back down.
The story of the rookie point guard goes back to January. The Chicago native was playing in St. Petersburg, Russia, just four months ago when Houston brought him back to the United States. He played in a back-up role for 41 games, but his big moment came Wednesday night.
Shortly before tip, McHale tabbed him for the starting lineup as the Rockets went extra small.
That change allowed Chandler Parsons to slide to the power forward slot. A mismatch for Oklahoma City's big men, he got off to a hot start. Houston trailed 57-55 at half and was within two points late after coming back from a 15-point deficit.
"We just kept fighting and playing," McHale said. "I thought Patrick Beverley did a great job out there for us. You know, I mean, I said this ... Our team is a young team. We're not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but they'll fight.
"We had some good shots we didn't make," he added.
The Rockets even outrebounded the Thunder, 57-40, with the small-ball lineup. Beverley was at the heart of the efforts, and he even scored a few baskets on his team-leading five offensive boards.
"We didn't know what to expect with that small lineup," said James Harden, who led Houston with 36 points. "Our emphasis was to rebound the basketball. Patrick had 12 rebounds ... that was our mindset, just go out there and rebound and push it."
If anything, the close loss gave the Rockets confidence. With Lin's status unknown for Game 3 in Houston, the team at least has insurance in a confident 24-year-old point guard.
"It doesn't take much to fire up Patrick," McHale said, referring to his dust-up with Westbrook. "You throw the ball up, Patrick's ready to go."