HOUSTON — Danny Green was sailing in on the right side for what would been a layup that stretched the Spurs run out to 12-0 and their lead up to six points with just under 1 1/2 minutes to play.
It’s not the first time nobody saw Patrick Beverley coming.
The Lakers had made him a second-round pick in 2009 and flipped him to Miami on draft night. He had previously spent a season in the Ukraine and when the pre-LeBron James Heat were doing everything they could to free up cap room, they packed his bags and extended his European vacation in Greece.
When the Rockets finally bought out Beverley’s contract from Spartak in St. Petersburg, Russia, and brought him home on Jan. 7, his first stop stateside was the NBA D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev.
“All I want to do is get a chance to show people that I can play,” Beverley said then. “Just give me a chance.”
It was the kind of move that drew little notice around the league, a young team adding another set of young legs.
A split second after the ball left Green’s hand on Sunday night, those young legs launched Beverley skyward. James Harden felt something zooming over his head like a meteor.
“You don’t usually see little guys making a play like that,” Harden said.
The little guy’s rejection of Green was big, big, big and it became huge when Chandler Parsons nailed a 3 at the other end, Harden bagged a pull-up jumper in the final seconds and the Rockets held on for a 96-95 win.
Sometimes these so-called playoff preview games can be more than a bit overblown. But having lost three times already to the Spurs this season and giving up an average of 123 points a game, it was a statement the Rockets needed to make, if only to themselves, as the possibility of a first-round Texas Two-Step series hovers.
Harden has long since proven himself as a frontline All-Star performer this season and Jeremy Lin’s game has steadily rounded into shape. And if there’s any surprise left in the Rockets’ backcourt, the 6-foot-1 Beverley has been doing all that he can to dispel it over the past two-plus months. He’s averaging five points and just under 16 minutes per game, but it’s when those minutes often come that are of note.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale put Beverley back in for Lin to play the point with 3:50 left, the score tied at 89 and going head-to-head against All-Star Tony Parker.
“I’m prepared at all times,” Beverley said. “Throughout this whole season I’ve been put in this situation a lot more than once. Orlando game, Wizards game. I just try to go out there and do what I do. Get some stops and make some open shots.”
Beverley made shots, open and otherwise, shooting 4-for-4 for 11 points in the first half and then played a critical role with his defense down the stretch.
“Patrick had a good game going,” McHale said. “Parker was driving hard and getting fouled, so we went with Patrick out there to get a little more defense and then Chandler switched off. I thought one of the biggest plays of the game was Patrick running down that block. That was a phenomenal block.”
After Harden’s jumper put the Rockets in front and the Spurs had their last chance, it was Beverley who prevented Tim Duncan from making a handoff return pass to Manu Ginobili to get the shot San Antonio wanted.
So here is the 2012 Eurocup MVP, who began another season playing on the far side of the world suddenly smack in the middle of a playoff race.
“I was on my way home from (shootaround) today and I called my mom and told her I still can’t believe I’m in the NBA,” Beverley said. “I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m enjoying it…I can finally show the world I can play basketball.”
Especially those who never saw him coming.