It's not Larry Bird stealing the ball — and an NBA Finals berth — off Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass. But it's not completely out of that ballpark either.
Consider the scenario. The Houston Rockets season is slipping out the door, James Harden's lost the ball and several Trail Blazers are poised to pounce on it. Only Jeremy Lin knocks the loose, bouncing basketball away from the long arms of 6-foot-8 Portland forward Nicolas Batum and just past diving Blazers guard Mo Williams. In an instant, Lin has the ball and the Rockets have a chance.
He drives toward the lane, possessing the court vision to see both a covered Dwight Howard inside and a wide-open Troy Daniels on the wing, outside the 3-point line. Lin makes an instant calculation and whips the ball out to Daniels, setting the rookie and soon-to-be D-League legend up perfectly so he can rise up into instant shooting motion, no adjustments necessary.
The Rockets are still kicking in this increasingly classic first round playoff series because Jeremy Lin makes one of those Larry Bird type plays.
Daniels never questions it. He just rises and fires from distance, what he's done more than any other D-League player in history this season. His aim is good and the Rockets are suddenly back from the dead.
All because Jeremy Lin beats everyone to the basketball and finds the open man. That's exactly what a real point guard is supposed to do and the Rockets certainly have one on this night. Troy Daniels, the perfect unlikely hero, dominates the highlights and postgame buzz — as he should. But the Rockets are still kicking in this increasingly classic first round playoff series because Jeremy Lin makes one of those Larry Bird type plays.
Many will refuse to see it because of hatred any Jeremy Lin success brings out. But his fingerprints are all over this 121-116 overtime victory too.
"I just found myself open and Jeremy Lin found me," Daniels tells the CSN Houston camera in the Rockets locker room after hitting The Shot with 11.9 seconds left.
In many ways, it's the perfect pairing — with a former D-League castoff and Christmas Eve-cut player turned $24 million man passing to a new D-League dreamer for the win. It also shows what Jeremy Lin and Troy Daniels are both all about. Lin doesn't discriminate. He's never been one to see only stars and scrubs, no matter how dependent the NBA is on its superstar caste system.
To Lin, they're all just players. And he'll pass to any teammate who's open — regardless of their pedigree. Lin never imagines going to Howard, a covered superstar, over Daniels. The D-League shooter's open. So Lin gets him the basketball.
"That's a big time shot," Lin tells CSN. "I can't say enough. It's awesome because I know what it's like to be in the D-League. To grind."
Grind's somehow kept the Rockets in this series. Despite completely blowing an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter, despite James Harden jacking up an unfathomable 35 shots (and only hitting 13), despite Chandler Parsons blowing three point-blank looks in transition, despite Lin himself driving in and missing an open layup that would have put the Rockets up by five in the final minute of regulation. Despite it all, Portland's series lead has been cut to 2-1.
And the Rockets are a Game 4 win away from grabbing control of this series right back.
You never know what can turn a series around. Sometimes it's a guts-out, heady play that makes The Shot happen — and then gets lost in the euphoria over it.
Troy Daniels Hero Training
Almost none of the blurry-eyed Houstonians waking up on this Saturday morning after a game that flirted with 1 a.m. are going to be talking about Jeremy Lin. But he plays a large part in making this happy sleeplessness happen.
With a desperate Rockets coach Kevin McHale finally making some adjustments, starting Omer Asik for Terrence Jones, going to a four-guard lineup of Patrick Beverley, Harden, Lin and Daniels when Parsons fouls out, with many other Rockets seemingly exhausted, Lin finally gets a chance to bring the ball up some and play like a true point guard.
In truth, Daniels should have been playing in this series before Game 3. He'd already shown he could contribute with his sure jumper.
And he's in there to make the heady, instinctive play when it matters most.
"J Lin made some big plays down at the end, some hustle plays," Beverley tells the cameras.
The last hustle play leads to The Shot. It leads to Daniels ensuring no Rockets fan will ever forget him no matter what else he does in his career. Or how long or short it lasts. Maybe, the guy who's played all of 75 NBA minutes in the regular season, his first NBA minutes ever, should be terrified of the moment.
Daniels never gives it a thought. He just shoots.
"If I hesitated I would have lost the game," Daniels says in his unexpected moment on the postgame interview dais, one broadcast live by NBA TV.
McHale will gush on about Daniels' toughness. To Daniels, it's more precise than that though. This is what he does. He fearlessly, unthinkingly shoots threes. It's what he's been too raised to do on the Rockets' D-League team. He's now hit 255 3-pointers this season.
"The Rockets have prepared me for this moment," Daniels tells ESPN.
It sounds a little preposterous — that one can prepare a no-shot D-Leaguer to hit the biggest shot of all. But this is in many ways Houston general manager Daryl Morey's moment just as much — and maybe even more — than that franchise-shifting, free-agent luring of Dwight Howard. For no NBA team's embraced the D-League as a vital training ground as quickly and as efficiently as Morey's Rockets.
In truth, Daniels should have been playing in this series before Game 3. He'd already shown he could contribute with his sure jumper. Kevin McHale was just a little slow on the uptake. Again.
Barely in the nick of time, McHale catches on. What a shot. What a game. What a series.
"We're still in control," Portland lifeline LaMarcus Aldridge insists in his own interview stage moment.
Maybe. Maybe not. The Rockets were dead — down four in overtime, having blown that double-digit fourth quarter lead. Now, they're alive and dangerous.
"Big time," Harden says on the dais of Daniels' moment. "He's playing in the D-League . . . now he's saving our season."
Daniels saves it after Harden — who's supposed to be saving it — loses the ball and Jeremy Lin makes a Larry Bird play. It's not the stuff of headlines and gushing TV analysts. It is the kind of hustling, heady, smart decision play that can change all.
It's sure nice to have a real point guard with the ball.