IN THE MOMENT

From start to finish, Rockets showing they are indeed Houston Strong

The Rockets honored the Santa Fe victims, then went on to win the game. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The ten thousand Houston Strong shirts draped across the chests and chairs of Toyota Center's lower bowl during Game 5 ironically ended up being the smallest showing of strength from Houston on Thursday night.

First and foremost the Houston Strong mantra doesn't come from a shirt or a patch or a sign, it comes from our city's, our region's response in the face of devastating adversity. Like many of you I find myself just a couple of degrees removed from the terrible events that took place in Santa Fe last week. Some of you undoubtedly have a much closer connection to the tragedy and no amount of words I, or anyone else, could string together can come close to adequately addressing your grief and your grievances. Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said more than on his mind, the events were in his heart as the team fought to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. He wasn't alone. From owner to player, the organization handled their response with genuine class, empathy, and a desire to help the victims recover.

However, D'Antoni also quite poignantly addressed the unfortunate limitations of their position, "What Mr. Fertitta did was a great gesture, but we all should be kind of tired of gestures and moments of silence. So let's get some action -- And let's try to change and to do a better job for the kids." There you have it. While the team and even the fans in attendance did a tremendous job of rallying around the survivors, like the rebuilding phase of Harvey, the real work is only just beginning.

Nevertheless, as the Santa Fe High School Choir gave a beautifully bittersweet rendition of this nation's anthem and the packed house showed their love to the victims in attendance, the ten thousand shirts weren't necessary to convey the message: Houston is Strong.

The Rockets have taken it upon themselves to show the Warriors, and the rest of the basketball world, their own strength. Coach D'Antoni likened the series to, "heavyweight fighters punching it out." An incredibly apt analogy especially considering when two fighters at the pinnacle of boxing get together it can sometimes produce an unexpected, if not unentertaining stalemate. Two fighters at the peak of their profession know exactly what the other fighter is going to do and they understand they have to both limit the damage of their opponent's repertoire and find new means of subverting their own reputation. D'Antoni went on, "They're not gonna let you win on points, you've gotta knock 'em out."

Well, after back to back defensive gems, consecutively holding the Warriors' truly unprecedented attack to under 100 points, the Rockets stand flexing their muscle over their stunned opponent and the count is almost up. 

The traditional expression of Houston Strong represents a kind of resiliency and that's just the kind of strength the Rockets are showing right now. The Rockets have found a way to transform from offensive juggernaut to defensive stalwart, and while a lot of us who follow them closely may have seen the pieces in place, it's still a marvel to see them put together so damn well. 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, shortly after addressing his team, following their loss, "I feel great about where we are right now. That may sound crazy, but I feel it. I know exactly what I'm seeing out there." Going on to summarize, he said, "If we settle down a little bit, we're going to be in really good shape." In addition to revealing that the Rockets have his team unsettled, Kerr's comments felt as though he may be trying to convince even himself. Despite the silver linings he tried to preach, each Warrior that followed him to the podium just made the clouds that much darker.

Kevin Durant was up first after Kerr and he almost sounded convinced, saying he and the team were, "Still confident." About Game 6 he insisted, "We'll be ready to play."

Draymond Green was next to make his way to the mic, and he did so with the pained grimaces of a fighter who's been repeatedly beaten down. "You've got to live with the results."

Lastly, Steph Curry addressed the media and he perhaps had the most trouble hiding the gnawing feeling that Houston's strength might just be insurmountable. "Not all is lost. We played well tonight, just not well enough." Another telling comment... The Warriors think they have played well and are just a couple of plays away from turning it all around. They seem to be ignoring that the Rockets have only had the briefest of flirtations with their true offensive capabilities in this series and even without Chris Paul in Game 6, they have quite a few players due for a positive stat correction.

The Rockets have Golden State so dazed that they've either forgotten or they're choosing to ignore how lucky they've been to avoid the right handful of Rockets' all firing together on the right night. For the most part the Warriors have gotten the expected production from their players; you can't say the same about Houston.

Something else you can't say about Houston, something even I myself have said very recently, is that our crowd is weak. No, last night, when it truly mattered, Houston stood up and showed its strength in yet another way. Hometown hero Gerald Green, "Ah man, fans were great. ...They were really really good today. I mean, this is what we need from them here on out. We need them to bring that energy, because we feed off that, it helps us. It sure helps me, so I'm pretty sure it helps everyone else as well."

Here on out. You heard the man. Whether it's Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, Game 1 of the NBA Finals, or Game 1 of the 2018-19 NBA Season -- From here on out, you know what this team needs, Houston. It needs your strength. Lucky for us, from our true fans, to our community, to its biggest ambassadors, Houston has strength in steady supply.

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Lance McCullers will make his return on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Photo by Getty Images.

This weekend marks a major moment for the red-hot Houston Astros, as a pivotal pitcher and fan favorite returns to the mound to lead his team that’s atop the American League.

After missing the Astros World Series run last year with a serious and nagging forearm injury — one that has also kept him from playing this season — Lance McCullers, Jr., the fiery team leader known for his devastating curveball and finely tuned slider, is making his triumphant return on Saturday, August 13 against the Oakland A’s.

The hometown hero who regularly (and usually secretly, except when we nag him — even during Thanksgiving) gives back to the community, last chatted with CultureMap ahead of last year’s World Series run. (We also talked his clever seltzer concept he concocted with teammate Alex Bregman and Bregman manager/co-partner Tyler Straub.) McCullers returns during Hall of Fame Weekend, which celebrates Astros greats.

Aside from cheering on one of the most valuable and beloved players on the team, fans can expect three days of memorable fun. Here’s a breakdown of the weekend, courtesy of the Astros. Tickets, as always, are available online.

Friday, August 12: Astros vs. Oakland A’s: 7:10 pm
The Astros open a three-game series with the A’s and officially kick off Astros Hall of Fame Weekend. In a continued celebration of the 60th anniversary of professional baseball in Houston, the evening celebrates the 2000s-era Astros for Flashback Friday.The first 10,000 fans will receive a Billy Wagner 2000s brick red throwback jersey. Former Astros outfielder Willy Taveras will throw out a ceremonial first pitch; the beloved Friday Night Fireworks will feature music from the 2000s.

Pregame Happy Hour presented by Budweiser will take place from 5 pm-7 pm at the Michelob Ultra Bar, with $5 Ultra Drafts, a live D.J., and stadium and skyline views.

Saturday, August 13: Astros vs. Oakland A’s: 6:10 pm
McCullers takes the mound and Astros Hall of Fame Class of 2022 — outfielder Terry Puhl and former front office executive Tal Smith — will be officially inducted in a pregame ceremony that will begin at 5:30 pm. The first 10,000 fans will also receive a Terry Puhl bobblehead.

Continue on CultureMap to see what the Astros have in store for Sunday.

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