Brooks Helps Rockets Stay Afloat Through Wave of Injuries
Patrick Beverley returned to the starting lineup in Monday night's 126-113 win over the tough Portland Trail Blazers, guiding the Rockets with 17 points and three assists in 29 minutes. Despite missing a month with a broken hand, the Rockets' defensive-minded floor general showed no ill effects.
Beverley's return pushes the fashionable Brooks further down the Houston bench.
It was a celebration at Toyota Center, where the crowd loves Beverley for his high energy and relentless defensive pressure. It was also a rare chance for the injury-riddled Rockets to look at their true potential, assuming their core players can finally stay healthy for an extended period.
"I don't know how much Patrick and Jeremy [Lin] have even played together," said head coach Kevin McHale. "I know it hasn't been a lot."
With Beverley back in the lineup, sixth-year veteran point guard Aaron Brooks returned to his usual third-string role. It's often a thankless job that can come without minutes (he played 31 seconds on Monday), and as a free agent last July, Brooks had opportunities to leave for more playing time. But Brooks unexpectedly chose to stay in Houston, citing familiarity with the club that drafted him in 2007 and an appreciation for the city.
"My kids had moved around a lot," said Brooks, who outside of his time in Houston had stints with the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and even a season in China.
"It's good to be somewhere they're familiar with. I'm just comfortable here and happy."
At the time, it was mostly hailed as a feel-good signing -- one that would provide depth, leadership and continuity, but one that probably wasn't essential to the team's ultimate success, given the presence of two players ahead of him on the depth chart.
The past seven weeks, however, have proven that signing to be quite astute.
"We're not caught off guard by anything Aaron can do, because he's been doing it for a long time," said Chandler Parsons, the team's starting small forward and in his third season, the longest consecutively tenured player on the always-changing Houston roster. "He's just been solid for us. He's a guy with the speed to break down defenses and the ability to make a lot of shots all over the floor.
"But it doesn't stop now [with Beverley's return]. "He's got to continue to do that, with guys going out with injuries and guys getting in foul trouble. He has to stay ready."
Injury bug became contagious in November and December
It seemed innocuous at the time. On the night before Thanksgiving, Lin sprinted out in transition and accidentally bumped knees with Atlanta's Paul Millsap in the opening moments, limping off to the locker room with what appeared to be a minor bone bruise.
Little did the Rockets know, it was only the beginning of what would soon become an avalanche of injuries to the all-important point guard position.
Lin returned two weeks later, but his conditioning was admittedly subpar. In his second game back, a road win at Golden State on December 13, Lin collided with Andrew Bogut on a screen -- jarring his back and causing spasms that would keep him out another ten days.
By December 21, Lin was within a game of his return. But on that night in Detroit, Beverley broke his hand, an injury that would keep him out for a month.
Neither Lin nor Beverley is an elite player. But each player's strengths (Beverley's defense and steady ballhandling, Lin's isolation play and offensive creativity) seem to beautifully offset the other's weaknesses. McHale said in October that it felt as if the Rockets essentially had two starting point guards.
But beginning with Lin's pre-Thanksgiving injury, the Rockets hit a stretch in which 25 of their next 27 games would be played without at least one of Beverley and Lin. For a title-contending team that thrives on pushing the pace, it could have meant disaster.
Enter the speedy Brooks, who unexpectedly sparked the Rockets over the past two months in much the same manner as he did during his first stint with the team. Back in 2009, the Rockets dealt Rafer Alston at the February trade deadline, thrusting an inexperienced Brooks into the starting lineup in only his second season. From there, he guided the Rockets to their only playoff series win of the past 16 years.