Jeremy Lin sits in the second to last seat on the bench, decked out in slim fit gray suit. James Harden looks so lost on the court that he probably couldn't find the rim with a Garmin. Francisco Garcia hasn't scored since the first quarter.
By all rights, the Houston Rockets should be dead.
Only, they're not. Because Chandler Parsons just won't let this terminal patient go. The Rockets second-year forward roars out of the locker room at halftime and throws down a baseline dunk on the very first possession of the third quarter. He doesn't just shoot threes. He attacks again and again, twists his way inside. He just won't stop coming on a night when some of the other Rockets look ready to just roll over and be done with the season.
Parsons' belief catches on though and there's Carlos Delfino picking Kevin Durant clean in the back court and pulling right up for a 3-pointer, making sure Houston's not down double digits going into halftime. There's Delfino later, dunking over . . . Durant?! Make that posterizing Durant, the second best player in all of basketball.
Parsons refused to ever let himself become an afterthought. And the Rockets received a reminder of just how far belief can take you.
It starts with Chandler though, already somehow the leader of a playoff team at age 24. The Rockets certainly follow Chandler to the franchise's first playoff win since May 14, 2009.
The Rockets beat the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder 105-103 Monday night to starve off the sweep because Daryl Morey saw enough to take Parsons with the 38th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. That's a second round pick, usually a throwaway pick in the top-heavy NBA, a league where anyone taken outside of the Top 10 is considered dicey many years.
Parsons refused to ever let himself become an afterthought though. And the Rockets received a reminder of just how far belief can take you Monday night.
"We were never going to give up," Parsons says, getting the on-court postgame TV interview that usually goes to a Harden or a Durant. "No way we were ever going to let this one slip away."
One last stand?
That's sure what it feels at Toyota Center with the crowd even louder than Saturday night and much more present at the start of the game. Most of the local celebs are gone (though Houston Texans linebacker Brooks Reed is sitting one row ahead of Morey in Section 108). This hardcore Houston crowd seem to realize that this Rockets team has been too entertaining this season to be doomed to a four-game, first-round sweep. They deserve a game.
Thanks to Parsons, they get it. He puts up 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists — a near triple double of such force that it has the Elias Sports Bureau scrambling to find other players in franchise history who've approached such a combination in a playoff game. The stats guru's conclusion?
The only other Rockets to ever have a 27-8-8 line or better in an NBA playoff game are two guys named Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
That's New Clutch City.
Saving James Harden
Parsons' stat line should hit you over the head if you're a basketball fan. It speaks to just how underrated he is. Parsons just may be the most underrated player in the NBA. In truth, with Harden struggling and Lin sitting, Rockets coach Kevin McHale should have put the ball in Parsons' hands down the stretch rather than having Harden dribble and play 1-on-5 Hero Ball with predictable results (two misses that weren't even close, one of them an air ball).
Yes, it turns out Chandler Parsons still may be even underrated by his own team. Not that he'd ever demand the ball.
"We’re a bunch of humble, hard-working dudes who are not going to give up," Parsons says once he moves to the postgame podium.
Of course, this humble dude will find the presence of mind to give his hair a quick pat fix moments after the buzzer sounds. (Check out the hilarious video of this particular Parsons move). Hey, the man knows he's going on live TV. Nobody ever said underrated had to mean disheveled.
That's New Clutch City, too.
"We’re a bunch of humble, hard-working dudes who are not going to give up."
The Rockets are the youngest team in the NBA with an average age (23.5) that would make many rental car companies wince. No matter what happens in Oklahoma City in Game 5 on Wednesday, getting a playoff win — even if it ends up being just one playoff win — is a significant little step for these Kid Rockets.
And McHale wasn't about to downplay it.
"That was an important win for us," he says in his interview session.
McHale talks about telling the Rockets beforehand that they're going to win the game for themselves, for each other, for the group. It's a win for these playoffs. But it's a win that will likely end up meaning more for future seasons.
The Rockets need to have a Derek Fisher 3-pointer taken off the board (for coming just after the shot clock) in video review to get this one. They need Serge Ibaka to blow a point blank put back at the buzzer to get this one. They need Kevin Durant to flirt with foul trouble to get this one.
Sure, Oklahoma City may need Durant to put up 40 in another game to wrap up this series. But do you really doubt that he can? He's dropped 79 points on the Rockets in two road playoff games.
Yes, it looks this will be the only one. But what a one. Led by the Most Underrated Player in the NBA.
Parsons has been called a pretty boy since his University of Florida days. He's been burdened by one of the worst TV nicknames in professional sports (Chandler Bang!). And yet, somehow his star is only becoming harder and harder to ignore.
New Clutch City. With Chandler in charge, why not?