Unsung guard goes from D-League to 'D' winning 3-pointer

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Troy Daniels gets a hug from Houston's Chandler Parsons and greetings from other Rockets after sinking the key 3-pointer late in overtime Friday against the Trail Blazers.Less than three weeks ago, Troy Daniels was in the NBA Development League, scraping and fighting for his chance to play on an NBA court.

On Friday night, Daniels became the Houston Rockets' savior when he drilled a 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds remaining in overtime.

The basket gave the Rockets a 121-116 victory over the Trail Blazers.

“It was a dream come true,” Daniels said.

The 3-pointer cut the Blazers' NBA playoff series lead to 2-1.

The Rockets still have a tough road to battle, with Game 4 at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Portland and Game 6, if necessary, back at Moda Center on Friday, May 2.

But, because Daniels made the biggest shot of his life, Houston still has a chance to get out of the first round.

“These moments are what we all live for,” Rockets center Dwight Howard said.

The decisive play started with an outstanding effort by Houston backup point guard Jeremy Lin.

With 15 seconds left in OT and the game tied at 116-116, Rockets guard James Harden was stripped of the ball. It rolled into the hands of Portland guard Mo Williams. Lin lunged for the ball and somehow got it back. He was off-balance as he dribbled toward the middle of the key. He thought about passing to Howard, but saw that the big man was guarded. Instead, he sent a pass to Daniels on the left side of the arc.

“I was coming toward the middle,” Lin said. “I saw Dwight and one of the defenders. I was going to throw it to Dwight, but then, whoever the (defender) was went down to him, and I tossed it out to Troy.”

Before he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated two consecutive weeks and before there was “Linsanity”, Lin was just another NBA D-League player. And so it was fitting that Lin was the one who got a loose ball in the waning moments of the game. And it was even more fitting that Lin passed the ball to Daniels and watched him knock down not only the biggest shot of his life but also the biggest shot of Houston’s season.

“I know what it’s like to be in the D-League and what he had to do all season -- grind, work, no spotlight, no lights, nothing,” Lin said. “The opportunity came, and he seized it. I’m happy for him. Everything he’s getting, he totally deserves.”

Daniels, playing in his rookie season, was an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Commonwealth University. He bounced back and forth between the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Rockets.

“It’s been wild,” Daniels said. “It’s been a roller coaster. I never would’ve thought I would be in this position.”

Daniels was always a threat to hit 3-pointers in the D-League. He made 124 of 308 (.403).

“The D-League has prepared me for this moment,” he said. “The Vipers' coaching staff and the Rockets' coaching staff, they really prepared me for this moment.”

With the confidence he developed in the D-League, Daniels had no hesitation about shooting the ball when he got the pass from Lin.

“If you’re a shooter, you can’t hesitate," he said. "If I would’ve hesitated, we would’ve lost the game.

"I put a lot of work in in the gym. It was a shot I could hit time in, time out.”

Daniels did not play at all in the first two games of the series. But, with Houston reeling, Rockets coach Kevin McHale told Daniels he would see action on Saturday.

“We needed somebody to make a couple of 3s,” McHale said. “He can shoot the ball, and prior to tonight we were shooting 21 percent from the 3-point line. Troy can knock it down.”

McHale said he told Daniels: "Young fella, go out there and fight your butt off. I feel bad that you weren’t with us longer to get more comfortable, but you have to get as comfortable as you can possibly get right now.”

Daniels played 20 minutes on Friday and scored nine points, hitting two other 3-pointers. He finished the game 3 of 6 from beyond the arc. He also pulled in three rebounds and played solid defense.

“He played good defense tonight, battled and made some tough boards,” Howard said.

Said McHale: “Troy is a tough kid. He’s going to get his nose dirty, and we needed to get some nose-dirty plays.”

With Houston still needing to try to win three games, Daniels is not taking the time to think about what he accomplished Friday. But he certainly will this offseason.

“After the season, I’ll probably sit back and think about the shots I took,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep playing now. It feels great to hit a game winner. But that’s what I do -- I shoot the ball.”

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