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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The Marlins are showing interest in Yuli Gurriel. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

As the reporting date for pitchers and catchers draws near, there are still some decisions hanging over the Astros. One of them is whether or not to bring back Yuli Gurriel. “La Piña,” as he's affectionately called, is 38 years old. He turns 39 in June. His leadership and instincts cannot be matched. The man has seen a ton of baseball and comes from a family of baseballers. So, what's the holdup?

Enter the Miami Marlins. The ownership group, led by Bruce Sherman, is undoubtedly trying to capitalize on the heavy Cuban population in the Miami area. Bringing in the Cuban Babe Ruth is a great way to attempt to get more fan engagement. The franchise has only been to the playoffs three times. First two times (1997 and 2003), they won it all. In 2020, they were swept in the NLDS. They're most likely offering him a ridiculous amount of money to come to a team with a losing history. Knowing the Marlins are willing to hand out stupid money, would you blame La Piña for taking one last ridiculous payday?

Think about it. He's got two rings and made a ton of money. He can safely retire very comfortably. The lure to come back for another year or two would definitely be about money. The Marlins aren't a real threat in the next couple of seasons to do anything, but are willing to pay me like I'm still a star? Plus, I'm closer to my home country with all my family and friends? Sign me up!

This is where the Astros have to make a decision. Bring Yuli back for another year or move on. If he follows through with his last four years, this should be a bounce back year. Since 2016, his first year in Houston and MLB, he's hit .262, .299, .291, .298, .232 (pandemic shortened season), .319, and .242 last season. The man is a professional hitter. He knows how to work an at-bat and can drive pitchers nuts. His defense isn't bad either. He's a more than capable first baseman.

This won't win me any favor, but I think it's time to move on. Yuli will always have a place in my heart because he was a major factor in the Astros' two World Series wins. Last season's title run was even more satisfying since it helped silence the haters. That was the mouthwash that got rid of the stench of the sign stealing scandal. Piña was there through it all.

Now, it's time to start transitioning towards the future. Piña, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr were the only holdovers from the 2017 team. Verlander was one of the guys the Mets backed the Brinks truck up for this offseason. Altuve (32), Bregman (28), and McCullers (29) should be all that's left of that group. While it would've been great to have Verlander (39) back, the emergence of the youth movement in the pitching staff made his loss somewhat expendable. At some point, the nostalgia wears off. Father Time and Mother Nature are both undefeated. If they were to bring Piña back, he should be a part timer transitioning into a hitting coach. Careers come to an end. It's time to start looking at his exit.

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