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The Utah Jazz posted a 37-4 record at home this season, good for the best local success rate in the NBA.
Thus far in the playoffs, they haven't quite replicated that success. Yep, after two convincing wins in Houston earlier in the week, the Jazz are now 0-1 at home for the 2008 playoffs.
Though one game gone awry isn't catastrophic for the Jazz at this point, its value to the Rockets virtually cannot be overstated.
While it was certainly another very much team-oriented win for the Rockets, this victory will be remembered in Houston for the efforts of one not-so-toothy second-round pick: Carl Landry.
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If you aren't yet familiar with Carl Landry's name, this would be a great time to make acquaintances. Because this won't be the last time his name comes up in a meaningful way. Last night's performance might be the one folks remember for a while, but it's worth noting that the rookie from Purdue has been playing the same sort of ball all season long.
Though injuries limited him to just 42 games this season, Landry has been the apple of stat-heads' eyes for a good portion of the season -- and with good reason. The man averaged 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game this season, which means that his per-minute production was stellar: In fact, Landry averaged a studly 19.3 points and 11.7 boards per 40 minutes to go with a true shooting percentage right around 64.
The non-stat-heads around the league haven't been able to help but appreciate Landry either. He brings a clear spark off the bench for this Houston team. Though at 6-foot-7 he is another one of the Rockets' undersized power forwards (see: Hayes, Chuck), Landry shows no aversion to playing big around the rim. It seems that he is always throwing down on someone or making a key defensive play, often on bigger opponents. Landry plays with infectious energy and has been a productive ball of craziness for Houston all season.
But his finest hour to date came with one play last night.
With the Rockets leading a must-have playoff game by one in the final seconds, Landry was there to play help defense as Utah point guard Deron Williams drove the lane.
In fact, he was more than there. He blocked Williams' shot at point-blank range.
But it isn't even the block that made this special -- and that was quite incredible in its own right.
It was the hustle.
In an NBA era that seems to have featured the reign of individuals over teams and highlight reels over all else, it's hard to even conjecture how many players in this league would have done what Carl Landry did after the shot he blocked last night. In a world in which SportsCenter-worthy swats become the goal, practically useful rejections often fall by the wayside.
Not last night.
Landry blocked Williams' shot, and then he proceeded to stride to the baseline to track the ball down just before it went of bounds. And as he jumped out of bounds with the ball, he had the presence of mind to save it back in to play right to a teammate. By the time Utah got the next whistle, the clock was down to two-tenths of a second left, and the foul shots that ensued were mere formality.
The preening block for the television cameras in that situation probably gives the opposition somewhere in the neighborhood of five seconds to run another play from underneath their basket. Instead, Carl Landry made sure that didn't happen. He played like a throwback and took care of keeping the game's biggest defensive stop from being a clock stoppage.
And all this was done by a guy who had already lost his tooth when Carlos Boozer inadvertently knocked it out early in the evening.
Best get used to hearing the name Carl Landry with some regularity. Because it isn't every day that we come across a player with toughness, hustle, desire, energy and the presence of mind and throwback mentality to help make it all come together.
Carl Landry is no superstar these days. But he is no slouch either. Truth be told, last night's block and save against the Jazz was just another day at the office for him.
And an amazing sight to see for the rest of us.