One. It’s been the number on the back of Rodney Hood’s jersey ever since he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Feb. 8 trade deadline. And it’s felt like the number of people who have believed in the embattled scorer since his shooting slump sent him to the end of Cleveland’s bench midway through playoffs.
Hood struggled against the Pacers, struggled mightily against the Raptors and barely got off the bench against the Celtics in the 2018 playoffs. The DNPs — the first of his basketball career — started to pile up. At one point, he refused garbage time minutes. It was an awkward scenario that was an odd undertone for a miraculous Cavs’ run to the NBA Finals.
But Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters he’d be calling on Hood to produce in a must-win Game 3 for the Cavaliers on Thursday. And even though Cleveland fell short, 110-102, to Golden State, falling to an impossible 0-3 series deficit no team in professional sports has ever overcome, their loss is not because of Hood. He answered the bell.
This was the Rodney Hood game
Hood gave himself and the Cavaliers new life in Game 3. He came off the bench and scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. He had two blocks and six rebounds to show for his 26 minutes on the floor, too.
Only two of Hood’s seven made field goals came off of an assist. He’s no Kyrie Irving, but he’s the only player on Cleveland’s roster — not named LeBron James — who can create a shot for himself or a teammate.
For example, James was credited for this assist, but Hood first had to Euro-step around Stephen Curry, then float his layup high up over Jordan Bell.
On another play, he took advantage of an isolation against Bell and got to his spot in the paint for another floater:
Hood had buckets like this all night. He took Draymond Green to the cup and finished right over the top.
He lowered his shoulder and drove right through Kevin Durant:
And he capped off his night with a beautiful spin move right around Shaun Livingston:
Hood was the answer to one of Cleveland’s many problems in this series. Someone aside from LeBron James had to step up offensively. He had shouldered the load the entire series against Boston, and it was Jeff Green’s 19 points in Game 7 that saved the day. For all intents and purposes, Hood had a Jeff Green-type game against the Warriors on Thursday. He created offense where there was none.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for the Cavs to beat the Warriors in Game 3. But if there’s any takeaway from Cleveland’s 110-102 loss to Golden State, it’s this.
Rodney Hood can still ball
It’s easy to forget Hood averaged 16.8 points per game as a member of the Jazz earlier this season. His regular-season highlights included 30 points against both the Knicks and the Pelicans, 26 against the Spurs, and 25 against, of course, the Warriors. But Quin Snyder ran a totally different offense in Utah from what Tyronn Lue runs in Cleveland. Where the Jazz space the floor, move the ball and rely on the dynamism of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to force defensive miscommunications, the Cavs rely on LeBron James, full stop.
It was a rocky transition Hood never fully adjusted to. He’s not a player who can just sit in the corner and wait for a spot-up three; he’s a shot creator who can put the ball on the floor and make things happen. That opportunity isn’t always there when James is the end-all, be-all of Cleveland’s offense. And for Hood, things looked ugly midway through the postseason.
Hood averaged 6.3 points per game in the first round against the Pacers, fewer than one point in three games against the Raptors, and recorded four DNPs in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. In Game 4 against Toronto, he refused to enter the game in garbage time. He eventually apologized to his teammates and sat on the bench waiting for his number to be called.
It was called in Game 3, and he made the most of his time. Every player has value when put in the best position to succeed, and Hood is no exemption to that rule. The Cavaliers probably should have gone to him sooner, and now that they find themselves in an 0-3 deficit, this NBA championship might as well already have Golden State’s paws all over it.
But Hood, who enters restricted free agency this summer, almost certainly garnered some interest after his play in Game 3. It showed resilience; that a player who had played poorly could bounce back when his team needed him most. It showed resourcefulness; he was able to create shots that no other player on Cleveland’s roster has been able to.
And most of all, it shows that Hood is still the same player who averaged virtually 17 points per game for the Jazz earlier this season. The Cavs’ wing saved face with his awesome Game 3 performance against the Warriors.
It’s just too bad his coming out party is starting just before the lights go out.