Before the Houston Rockets' practice on Friday, Patrick Beverley scooped up his phone and started to scroll his mentions on Twitter. Russell Westbrook needed knee surgery, and the angry online mob had come calling for the Rockets rookie in cyberspace.
"Get off it," the Rockets trainer chastised Beverley. "And stay off until the playoffs are over."
Beverley barely blinked. Bring it on. He can take it. He can take it all. He's sorry Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus on Thursday, but Beverley apologizes for nothing. When Westbrook slowed down to call a timeout in Game 2, Beverley accelerated, lunged for the steal and crashed into Westbrook's knee.
Beverley plays fast and faster, plays forward with the desperation of an unmistakable truth that hangs over him like the basketball reaper: He doesn't want to go back.
"I want to go against Russell Westbrook again and battle him again," Beverley told Yahoo! Sports by phone on Friday evening. "I didn't try to hurt him, but that play was something I've tried in the past, a play that worked against the Suns earlier in the season – and it's a play that I'm going to continue to try again."
In these NBA playoffs, there is no more hardened, no more sturdy rookie than Patrick Beverley. More and more, he's become an indispensable part of these Rockets. With Jeremy Lin going down in Game 2, Beverley had his best game of his season with 16 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the narrow loss to the Thunder.
As an unsure, unsteady 20-year-old, Beverley packed his bags and went to the Ukraine in 2009. Across three seasons overseas – from the Ukraine to Greece to Russia – he choked on tear gas, ducked firecrackers and waited out smoke bombs in the locker room. He absorbed a coin ricocheting beneath his eye, opening a cut and leaving him to shoot his free throws with blood gushing down his cheeks.
"The one good thing about playing back here is that the fans can't really get to you," Beverley said.
Out of the West Side of Chicago, where he had gone against Derrick Rose his entire life, he found himself needing to leave Arkansas weeks before the start of his junior year. He confessed to handing a paper into a class that someone else had written, and he didn't want to sit out a full season when the university suspended him.
Once Beverley decided to try to make his way overseas, his agent, Kevin Bradbury of BDA Management, had a plan: Get Beverley the proper tutelage, the right coaches, the right point guard mentors. For Beverley to get to the NBA, Bradbury understood he needed to transform from a shoot-first combo guard into a polished playmaker.
In the Ukraine, Beverley played for an ex-NBA assistant, Bob Donewald Jr., and "guys who were as old as my mom, 36, 37…" Beverley even won the Ukraine's second-division dunk contest.
"Pretty good dunkers over there," he said. "I won it with the dunk Nate Robinson did in the [NBA contest] that year, jumping over a 7-footer."
The Lakers drafted him in the second round in 2009, traded his rights to Miami, and Beverley, with the arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, was the final cut in training camp. This time, Bradbury sent Beverley to Olympiacos in Greece to play behind Theodoros Papaloukas, the greatest Euroleague point guard ever. They played for Greek and Euro titles. They played in hellacious environments against Turkey, the blood war of all basketball blood wars.
"I learned so much," Beverley said. "I learned to be responsible for my craft. I matured over there. I wouldn't change anything about my path here. It's made me who I am."
Halfway through this NBA season, the Rockets worked a buyout to leave Russia, and he finally reached the NBA. General manager Daryl Morey and assistant GM Gersson Rosas had scouted him forever, brought him into Houston for workouts and signed him to a three-year deal to get him out of Spartak in Russia.
Now, Beverley promises to be a target for these Thunder. Westbrook is seething over the foul – "irate," a source close to him said – for what he considered an unnecessary, even a dirty, play. Beverley wants Westbrook to understand something: He didn't want him out of this series, but in it. He's been waiting a long, long time to get a chance to compete with the best guards in the NBA and wants him again, wants him soon.
"I want to play him again," Beverley said. Yes, Patrick Beverley pushed hard at Westbrook, pushed through the referee's whistle and ultimately into his right knee. Beverley started a long way from here – too long ago – and has worked up a lot of speed, a lot of momentum. There's no stopping him now.
Whatever everyone else thinks is the proper etiquette, the way people are supposed to treat superstars, Patrick Beverley just knows this about himself: He's lurching forward, full speed. No going back now, no going back ever.