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Only hours before a pivotal playoff game on Sunday, Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley learned about the death of the man who helped raise him.
Convinced by his family to play in the game against the San Antonio Spurs, an emotional Beverley honored his grandfather, Rheese Morris, by playing his heart out in a crucial 125-104 victory that evened the Western Conference semifinals.
"It's just tough," Beverley said after the game, while trying to hold back tears. "I had to be there for my grandmother. That's the only man she knew for the last 26 years. I had to be there for my mom. I had to be there for my cousins back home in Chicago."
Beverley, known primarily for his tough defensive play, finished with 10 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds in the victory. He often tapped his heart and pointed to the sky before the game, a gesture he repeated when he hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter.
Morris, who had apparently been suffering from an ongoing illness, helped Beverley's single mother raise nine children in Chicago between Beverley's siblings and cousins.
Beverley said he supported him during his winding journey to the NBA, which included stints playing in Greece, Russia and Ukraine. (The Arkansas grad signed with Houston in 2012.)
"It's so tough, because everybody knows I work so extremely hard to prove myself each and every night, and to have somebody that was right there supporting me the whole way, wore my jerseys every single day of his life, wore my Russian jerseys every single day of his life, man, to have a person like that taken from you is hard,'' he said.
Beverley said he was initially going to fly back to Chicago to be with his family after waking from a pregame nap and learning of his grandfather's death. His family convinced him to play in the game.
"He's incredible," Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said after the game. "Our prayers go out to his family. We're always with him. He's the guy that you want on the bus when you're going into the alley or if you're trying to find a pickup game or whatever. You want him with you. Whatever you're trying to do, you want Pat."
Teammate and good friend Ryan Anderson, who dealt with the suicide of his girlfriend, reality TV star Gia Allemand, in 2013, spoke about Beverley's perseverance.
"It’s tough, because you know Pat and you know that he’s about as competitive as they get,” Anderson told USA Today. "I never met his grandfather, but I know that his grandfather would want him playing in this game, and want his focus to be on this game right now. But life hits you with things. There’s tough times in life, and we’ve just got to stick together, pick each other up."
Players coping with tragic losses has become an unfortunate theme of this year's NBA playoffs, as Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas has endured the death of his 22-year-old sister in a car accident.
Beverley and the Rockets will head to San Antonio to play Game 5 on Tuesday as he mourns the loss of his mentor.
"I'm really a strong guy," Beverley said. "I can deal with a lot of things, but I can't deal with anybody suffering. He suffered, but he's in a better place now."