Patrick Beverley is the key in Rockets' Game 1 victory

HOUSTON -- It was one of those plays that looked scary. There was Patrick Beverley, the right side of his face on the Toyota Center floor and his eyes closed. He wasn't moving. The Houston Rockets guard had run into a Steven Adams screen and hit the floor hard, and the crowd reacted with a hush.

Then Beverley got up and acted as if nothing had happened. Just a typical play for the heart and soul of this team.

He and the Rockets went on to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 118-87 in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series Sunday night.

After the third-quarter screen by Adams, the Rockets rolled, outscoring the Thunder 54-28. If you thought Beverley wasn't going to recover, think again. After crashing to the floor, Beverley made all three of the shots he took for eight points. And just for a cherry on top, after the screen, Beverley slapped hands with Houston Texans pass-rusher J.J. Watt, who was sitting courtside next to the Rockets bench. Watt, a man who has laid a few hits on ball carriers in his career, gave the impression he loves a hard hit from time to time.

"It was legal screen," Beverley said. "Good screen."

Beverley briefly went into the locker room to have his back checked, and he received treatment after the game. But the Rockets know he's their tough guy. As he stood outside the interview room, coach Mike D'Antoni playfully bumped into his back, noting his man was all right.

"Every player is unique, but the closest thing to him is Raja Bell," said D'Antoni, referencing his small forward from his days as coach in Phoenix. "He had that type of competitive spirit, you don't find it too often and it's pretty rare."

When you add it all up, Beverley outplayed the Thunder's MVP candidate, Russell Westbrook.

He scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, was plus-18 in the box score and provided outstanding defense against Westbrook. Westbrook went 3-for-9 from the field with two turnovers and eight points against Beverley. Maybe the tone was set early in the first quarter when Beverley stole the ball from Westbrook and scored on a two-handed dunk.

Beverley joked after the game he wasn't sure if he could get up that high. Well, he was not only getting up high, he was playing at another level.

"He does it every game," James Harden said. "That's the reason why we're in the position that we're in. He brings it every game. Whether or not his shot is falling or not, he brings that intensity. Tonight he made shots, he rebounded the ball at a high level, he's just Pat tonight."

Beverley wasn't alone.

Harden, the other MVP candidate in this heavyweight showdown, scored 37 points and created 59. The Rockets were just more physical than the Thunder, outrebounding them by 15. It was a stunning effort on the boards by the Rockets, considering the Thunder led the NBA in rebounding during the regular season with 1,002 offensive rebounds. In Game 1, Houston had seven more offensive rebounds than Oklahoma City.

Clint Capela, Nene Hilario and Ryan Anderson combined for 24 rebounds, with nine on the offensive end.

But let's not forget Beverley, who was committed from the first second of the game, through that hard screen and on to the final buzzer. At the end of the night, he just stood on the court seemingly standing and waiting for something more to happen. The players from the Thunder walked in the opposite direction, deflated, knowing they must regroup for Game 2 on Wednesday. Beverley will be waiting.

"Pat played great, unbelievable," forward Trevor Ariza said. "A lot of energy, hit a lot of shots, made plays. He did everything that we needed him to do."

Patrick Beverley scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and played stifling defense against Russell Westbrook in Game 1. Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder knock Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley down, but can't knock him out

Back in his heyday as heavyweight champion and baddest upright creature on the planet, Mike Tyson used to say everybody has a plan until they get hit.

Pat Beverley got hit by a jarring screen set by New Zealander Steven Adams that seemed to come from half a world away and dropped like a bag of hammers. But he got back up, which has always been at the heart of the Beverley plan.

From being drafted by the Lakers in 2009, traded to the Heat and then cut before the end of training camp.  From toiling in the Ukrainian second division to a stint in Greece and another in St. Petersburg, the one in Russia, staying down has never been an option.

Not when there is work to do.

The Rockets were still wrestling with the Thunder in the playoff opener Sunday night when the world suddenly went dark courtesy of the 7-foot, 255-pound Adams’ left shoulder.

But it was Beverley who turned the lights out on Oklahoma City.

Barely two minutes later, Beverley let fly with a step-back 3 out on the right wing and very next time down the floor took a feed from James Harden and drilled another one, then took a moment to mug for the TV cameras and take a bow for the Toyota Center crowd that was suddenly on its feet with the kind of churning roar that one might normally expect to hear standing at the base of a massive waterfall as the Rockets were on their way to a 118-87 thumping.

These are the faithful that have come to belong to Beverley as much as The Beard over their five seasons together in Houston.  For all of the awed reactions they have for Harden’s artistry out on the basketball canvas, there is also appreciation for the guy who cleans the paintbrushes.

It was two 3-pointers that found the bottom of the net at just the right time and an entire night of relentless pursuit by Beverley into every nook and cranny of the game to try to get loose balls, extra rebounds or make one more defensive play.

This was the series that drew so much of the national attention and so many of the headline due to the matchup of the two show ponies — Harden and Russell Westbrook — in the MVP race.  But it was a game that was broken wide open in the third quarter by the ultimate workhorse.

Harden finished with 37 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, but missed 15 shots along the way.  Westbrook wound up with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but clanked 17 tries.

The only triple-doubles that Beverley keeps track of include scratching, kicking and annoying the hell out of everyone.

“Every player is unique, but the closest thing I ever had to him is Raja Bell,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni.  “A guy that would get under the skin of everybody but their own teammates.”

Beverley walked off with a playoff career-high 21 points with 10 rebounds, the second postseason double-double of his career. And yet the images that endure have little to do with statistics.  It is a picture in the minds-eye of him doing everything but slapping a saddle on Westbrook and riding him around the court.

At one point in the second quarter, Beverley dogged Westbrook from behind as he tried to bring the ball up the floor, sending the Thunder guard sprawling to the floor.  It was a play that drew a whistle and a foul. But the message had been delivered that it was going to be another of those black-and-blue nights for Westbrook.  They do have a history, the pair, from back in the 2013 playoffs when Beverley collided with Westbrook’s knee and wiped him out for the rest of the playoffs.

They say the playoffs are when the real season begins.  Tell that to Beverley, who plays each night like the fate of civilization is hanging in the balance.

“Tonight?” Harden asked.  “He does it every game.  That’s the reason why we’re in the position we’re in.  He brings it every game.  Whether his shot is falling or not, he brings the intensity.”

For a guy who had to literally travel the globe to keep chasing his dream, who signed on with the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers in January of 2013 and just a few weeks later had already put his toe in the door with the Rockets, he stood there in front of the cheering crowd and took in the validation of the effort.

“The city of Houston has been great to me since I’ve been here,” Beverley said.

The Rockets have come this far — third-best regular season record in the NBA — by riding the nightly exploits of Harden’s varied skills and the wildest, craziest, 3-point shootingest offense that has ever been unleashed on the league.  But if they are really going to become more than a sideshow and challenge the real order of true contenders at the top, they’ll need Beverley's defensive teeth, grit and attitude.

He plays like somebody put broken glass inside his sneakers, angry and edgy.  After the crushing disappointment of last year’s 41-41 record and underachievement, when former teammate Dwight Howard came to town in February and stopped by the Rockets’ locker room to say hello to old buddies, Beverley called for security to have him tossed out.

So on Sunday night, he got hit by Adams and still had a plan.

“He’s just Pat,” Harden said.

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