Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale said it doesn't take much to get Patrick Beverley excited to play basketball.
“You throw the ball up and Patrick's ready to go,” McHale explained.
When they threw the ball up for Game 2 on Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Beverley was more than ready to go against the OKC Thunder.
“The coaching staff told me I was starting a couple of days ago, so of course I was excited,” Beverley said.
When Beverley unintentionally bumped knees with Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook as a timeout was being called with 5:34 left in the second quarter, a hobbled and angry Westbrook slammed the scorer's table in frustration and got more than a little fired up himself.
As OKC and Houston waged a war, a battle ensued between Westbrook and Beverley.
“It's the playoffs,” Westbrook said with a smile. “I can't help but get excited. I love to compete for my team and for my fans. Just try to go out and compete. … It's fun.”
The Thunder survived the war with a 105-102 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, but Westbrook and Beverley no doubt will continue to battle.
Originally drafted out of Arkansas by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft, Beverley was traded to the Miami Heat and waived days before the 2010-11 season. He signed with the Rockets on Jan. 7 after playing in St. Petersburg, Russia.
McHale opted to go with a small lineup for Game 2 and replaced 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward Greg Smith with the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Beverley, who came up big with 16 points, 12 rebounds (five offensive), six assists, two steals and one blocked shot.
“Anybody that knows me knows I'm not going to back down from anyone, whether it's Westbrook or anyone else," Beverley told Rockets.com.
Westbrook countered with 29 points (10 for 26 from the field; 1 for 7 from 3-point range), five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Despite using the league's smallest starting lineup with three players 6-foot-5 and under, the Rockets inexplicably dominated the boards with a 57-40 rebounding advantage.
Houston outscored the Thunder 27-15 on second-chance points and 50-30 in the paint thanks to baskets that came from spreading the floor and leaving the lane far less congested.
“It doesn't add up other than it did add up,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said when asked to explain the rebounding discrepancy. “They got the rebounds. This is something we've talked about all year. We have to do a much better job. We can't be the bigger team and be the team that gives up (18) rebounds offensively.”
Thanks in large part to McHale's decision-making and Beverley's relentless effort, Wednesday's contest had zero resemblance to Game 1, which the Thunder dominated 120-91 on Sunday night.
“Patrick's a tough little guy. He plays hard. He competes,” McHale said. “It didn't take bumping knees with Russell to get excited. He plays excited in practice. He's just hard-working, really a nice kid.
“In December, he was in St. Petersburg, Russia, and now he's starting in a playoff game. It's a pretty cool story for him. He's a great young man. He's a tough, tough little guy from Chicago. He's going to fight you for it.”
Game 3 is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Toyota Center in Houston. Look for the Rockets to try the same formula, although the status of starting guard Jeremy Lin is uncertain due to a shoulder contusion that kept him out the entire second half Wednesday.
“When you play a team like the Thunder, you've got to try some different stuff,” McHale said. “We went small, played zone some. I just thought we could match up and try to take away some of their perimeter shots.
“We're not a perfect team by any stretch of the imagination, but they'll fight. They're a bunch of scrapers. They'll fight you for it. I knew our team would play well today because that's who they are.”
Former Thunder sixth man James Harden had a game-high 36 points (9 for 24 from the field) and converted 17 of 20 free throws.