By Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press on December 19, 2023.
Dillon Brooks made some statements in his first game back in Memphis last Friday.
The Mississauga, Ont., native scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half as the Houston Rockets overcame a double-digit, first-half deficit to top the Grizzlies 103-96.
After going 1-of-9 from the field, he hit a three-pointer with 40 seconds left for a 99-94 lead. He also stole an in-bounds pass later, sealing the win for Houston.
Brooks was once a mainstay in Memphis, where he was drafted and spent six seasons. But his heel turn in the NBA – he is known as a league villain for his penchant for trash talk and his disreputable disciplinary record – and a stretch of poor offensive performances eventually led to the Grizzlies sending him to Houston in a sign-and-trade deal this past off-season as he hit free agency.
“I don’t want to lose to Memphis ever in my career,” Brooks said when asked if it was the perfect ending.
“Regardless of how we get it, if I get 20 or I have zero points, I want to win every single time we play Memphis just to let them know they made a little mistake.”
Brooks signed a four-year, US$80 million contract with the upstart Rockets, who are currently ninth in a competitive Western Conference at 13-11 after years of struggle.
Last Friday’s win was the fifth of a five-game winning streak before Houston recently dropped two consecutive games.
The Grizzlies gave Brooks a video tribute in his return, and the fans gave the 27-year-old forward an ovation.
“It was great, it meant a lot me,” Brooks said. “Just seeing all the evolutions of myself.
“Being a rookie, doing different things in the community, growing as a basketball player, you could see the different fashions that I started doing. Turning into the villain – it was great. The warm welcoming, the fans were being great, it felt right.”
Brooks also added that he had some emotions going into the game.
“A little bit of sadness because I love being here,” he said. “I guess you could say tears of joy. Just somewhere I could always come back and feel accepted.”
Houston is now 3-0 against the Grizzlies on the season, with the two teams facing each other one last time on Feb. 14 at Memphis.
The Shai Gilgeous-Alexander show was alive and well last Saturday in a big win over fellow Canadian Jamal Murray and the defending champion Denver Nuggets.
Gilgeous-Alexander hit the game-winning jumper with 0.9 seconds left in the contest to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a 118-117 win. The guard from Hamilton took Peyton Watson off the dribble, went left before spinning right and hitting a fadeaway mid-range shot.
“I looked at coach (Mark Daigneault) as soon as I caught the ball, just to see if he wanted to call a timeout. He just said ‘just play,'” Gilgeous-Alexander recalled of the final play.
“I tried not to race the ball up the floor too fast, tried to take a little bit of time off the clock and shoot at the last second. As far as the move, I just tried to get to something that I shot many times, something I was comfortable shooting.”
The shot capped a 25-point, six-rebound, eight-assist performance from the MVP candidate, who hasn’t lost a step from last season.
Murray had 15 points and five assists in 27 minutes of action in his third game back from an ankle injury he suffered Nov. 29.
Oklahoma City is 17-8 on the season, second in the Western Conference and just a half-game ahead of third-place Denver (18-10).
– With files from The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2023.