HOUSTON There was a bizarre intersection of point guards at Toyota Center on Monday that might have proven debilitating had Goran Dragic not concluded this unusual night by laughing off his twisted right ankle.
Earlier in the day Kyle Lowry made an appearance at the Rockets' shoot-around looking slightly gaunt and worse from the wear of a bacterial infection that has sidelined him since March 10. Less than an hour before tipoff against the Kings, veteran Earl Boykins arrived fresh off signing a 10-day contract and the completion of a physical that enabled Rockets coach Kevin McHale to add Boykins to the active roster.
And then in overtime, after the Rockets had determinedly erased a 16-point first-quarter deficit, Dragic crumbled to the floor and sent a collective gasp through the arena. It appeared worse had come to worse.
"I was not sure if I (should) go back to the bench to watch the game or go to the locker room," Dragic said of a curious moment when he stopped en route to the locker room to watch the action from behind the basket stanchion adjacent to the Rockets' bench. "I tried to finish the game but the pain was too strong.
"I was just looking what was going to happen on defense or offense. Luckily we won that game."
For a moment, luck seemed nowhere in sight. The Rockets eked out a 113-106 victory that allowed them to keep pace with the Jazz and Nuggets, both of which had won on the road earlier in the evening.
With Lowry confirming that his status for the remainder of the season is unknown, the Rockets signed Boykins, 35, to provide a veteran's steady hand behind Dragic. No one could have anticipated that Boykins would log 21 minutes in his first action of the season, or that he would sink four consecutive free throws in overtime to snuff the Kings (17-32).
"This is very unique," Boykins said after posting 10 points and five assists. "This is definitely a unique situation, but it helps when you've been around as long as I have. You know how to prepare to play in the NBA even if you're not in the NBA. You know what it takes to keep your body in shape. Tonight the guys, they had confidence in me. It takes a great deal of confidence to give someone the ball who you haven't seen all year.
"It's a lot easier to play when your teammates have that type of confidence in you."
To an extent, this is what McHale had in mind when the Rockets (27-23) pursued Marcus Camby at the trade deadline and Boykins this week. Courtney Fortson did a bang-up job backing up Dragic, but with injuries ravaging their roster the Rockets needed experience off their bench.
Camby and Boykins, teammates with the Nuggets for three-plus seasons (2003-07), provide exactly that. Camby labeled Boykins "pound for pound one of the toughest guys in the league" in the aftermath of his fortuitous performance, and McHale gushed over what Boykins provided. Given that Boykins last played in the NBA last season with the Bucks, he exceeded all expectations based on the circumstances at hand.
"That's the value of having guys like Marcus Camby and Earl Boykins: they've played in a ton of games," McHale said. "Is it different? Yeah. Is it a new team? Yes. But it's basketball, and they've been doing it their whole lives. There's just a calmness about them and an assuredness.
"They're just relaxed. They've seen so much, which is great. We need that."
McHale shared with Boykins "four or five plays" as well as some defensive assignments during the small window after Boykins arrived and before the teams took the court for pregame warm-ups. At the 6:56 mark of the first quarter McHale inserted Boykins into the game seeking a remedy to the Rockets' sloppy ball handing and the Kings' run-outs.
Once the Rockets managed to take better care of the ball, they began the process of chipping away at the Kings' advantage. That endeavor reached its conclusion when Patrick Patterson converted a second-chance opportunity into a basket and a 91-90 lead with 3:33 left.
The Rockets expended so much energy rallying that the one-point lead Patterson provided was their largest of the closing moments. Patterson buried a 22-foot jumper with 8.3 seconds left to force overtime, and in the extra session the Rockets finally pulled away, extending to a 106-101 lead when Dragic drilled a pull-up 18-footer with 2:14 remaining.
Less than a minute later Dragic hobbled off the court with the assistance of team trainer Keith Jones. After Lowry offered no assurances of his return and with Boykins called off the street and closing this game, things looked grim. Later, Dragic made it seem like everything was OK.
"Now we have Boykins. He's a great point guard, he's been in the league a long time so he can help us a lot," Dragic said. "This season is really tough for us (because) we have a lot of injuries. (I) just try to be healthy and not think about injuries, and try to play hard as possible."
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