The Houston Rockets stunned the L.A. Lakers on Tuesday night, 107-105, to claim their most impressive win of the young season. The Rockets have been on an incredible roller-coaster ride ever since head coach Kevin McHale took a leave of absence because of a death in the family.
Despite not having their leader, the Rockets are soldiering on. James Harden has been nothing short of spectacular, ranking fifth in the league in scoring at 24.1, and should be on his way to the All-Star game. Free agent acquisition Omer Asik has been a pleasant surprise at center, as he ranks third in the league in rebounds (12.1).
The last time the Rockets saw their coach was Nov. 28 when the Rockets traveled to Minnesota to attend the funeral of McHale’s daughter, who died from complications of lupus at the age of 23. The team arrived at the hotel between 1:30 and 2 a.m. They were back up by 8 for a team brunch and a scouting report in suits and ties before they went to the funeral. Acting coach Kelvin Sampson said McHale and his wife, Lynn, were arranging candles near some photos of Sasha and didn’t immediately see the team walk in.
”We didn’t know what to do or say, so we just waited for them to get finished, then they turn around and at the same time they looked at us,” Sampson told the Associated Press. ”Really, really, really emotional.”
McHale hugged everyone in Houston’s traveling party and shared a few words with each person. He took a leave of absence from the team on Nov. 10. Sasha died Saturday at age 23 of complications from lupus.
”Just to see our faces, I think, kind of gave him some kind of joy. Just to show him that we were there, our whole entire organization was there just to support him,” Harden said. ”No matter if it was for 5 minutes or 30 minutes, he just wanted to see our faces. I’m glad we got that opportunity to go out there and share that moment with him.”
The team then flew to Oklahoma City, arriving at the arena less than 5 hours before game time. Sampson said about half of his players were in the locker room with towels over their heads, trying to squeeze in a nap during the afternoon.
He wasn’t sure whether to expect them to play ”lights out” or play tired.
”I think our guys understand that there’s something far more powerful and more important that happened today than their routine, and that was supporting a coach that lost a daughter,” Sampson said.