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It took a while, and for his longterm future, at least in Cleveland, it might have came too late, but Rodney Hood gets it.
When Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue called Hood’s number with 2.6 seconds to play and down 10 points in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at Oracle Arena, Hood peeled off his warmups and eagerly entered the game in what was the ultimate definition of garbage time.
He subbed in for LeBron James, who had just posted 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
After the game, Hood did what pretty much anyone would do… he called his mom. Vicky was back in Cleveland babysitting his 6-week-old twins, Riley and Rich.
“I got into a championship game!” Rodney told Vicky, according to a story by Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News, putting the moment into perspective.
One poor choice
Late in the Cavaliers’ Game 4 triumph over top-seeded Toronto in the second round at Quicken Loans Arena, Hood was summoned by Lue to sub in for James with the Cavs up by 30 points.
Hood refused, veteran Jose Calderon instead replacing James.
Bad look… bad move… bad result.
Hood came in the following day and fell on his sword. He apologized to his teammates and coaches.
His mother explained that night, everything came to a head for her son. The disappointment of not becoming the focal point in Utah after Gordon Hayward left via free agency and signed with Boston, his fast start and rapid decline with the Cavaliers and, not to mention, his wife having twins in the midst of all of it.
“This year has just been that kind of year for him and at some point everybody gets into a boiling point where it hits a head and you hope you make the right decision in that moment and sometimes you don’t,” Vicky said.
“He learned from the thing and he pulls for and is excited for everybody on the team even though he’s not on the floor, he’s still succeeding.”
A quick start
In their first game after being acquired by the Cavaliers on deadline day, newcomers Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. all shined as Cleveland blew out a Boston team, still sporting a healthy Kyrie Irving at the time, on its home floor. It was perhaps the best game the Cavaliers played the entire regular season.
Hood, a lanky 6-foot-8 left-hander, scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting , before having a single practice with his new team.
“We were so full of energy that day,” Hood told Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. “It was one of those games where we weren’t thinking. We were so excited to be there. But that wears off and you figure out who you really are.”
Since then, though, Hood has fallen on difficult times with the Cavaliers.
He was posting a career-best 16.8 points, mostly off the bench, in 39 games in Utah in 39 games. As a Cavalier, his scoring average dropped 10.8 points in the regular season.
Even though he started Game 1 of the first-round series against Indiana, Hood is averaging but 4.6 points on 41.5 percent shooting, including an abysmal 15.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
He has logged five Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision in five of the Cavaliers’ 19 playoff games. In the 14 games he has played, Hood is averaging 14.5 minutes. Has played a total of three minutes in the Cavaliers’ last six playoff games.
“This is my first time ever having DNPs in my life,” Hood told SI. “I look back at my Utah highlights on YouTube, just to remind myself: ‘That was this year.”’
“I think coming from a situation in Utah he was accustomed to, and then coming to a situation after midseason to a team that had championship aspirations, he didn’t really get a chance to have a full year and a full training camp,” Lue said. “But he’s been great. He did great throughout the course of the regular season, and the playoffs have been just a little different for him.”
“So we have confidence in him. He has to have more confidence in himself. And he’s going to be a big part of what we’re trying to do. So he’s not X’d out right now.”
A different deal
Even though he played in 11 games off the bench in the playoffs for the Jazz last season, Hood admits playing with James and his Cavaliers, who won a fourth consecutive Eastern Conference championship this spring, is a different ballgame.
“If you lose a game, you feel like the world is coming down,” Hood said. “If you win, you’re supposed to. It’s still a struggle for me to adapt to that.”
In Game 1 of the conference finals against Boston, Hood scored 11 points and made five of 12 shots. In Game 2, playing 11 minutes, he missed the two shots he took. He has not played in anything but garbage time since, including the final seconds of Game 1 against the Warriors.
Keeping the faith
Still, the soon to be restricted free agent is maintaining belief an opportunity awaits him in the Finals. His father, Ricky Sr., wife, Richa, and his agent are with him to lift his psyche in Oakland as the Cavaliers prepare for Game 2 against the Warriors.
“If I get out there for five minutes or three minutes or 20 minutes, I can’t ease my way into the game,” Hood said. “As soon as I get in, I’ve gotta get after it. I want to make an impact. I’ve got a feeling that at some point I’m going to be used.”
Which is exactly what Lue wants from Hood.
“Rodney has been working hard,” Lue said after Game 1. “He had opportunities in the first round. He’s been working to play, and he’s going to get opportunities.
“Just because he didn’t play last night or that much in the Boston series, I’ve always talked to him about being ready, staying ready, because he is a great talent and we’re going to need him. He’s going to get a chance and an opportunity.”