The 2014-15 Houston Rockets won 56 games behind MVP candidate James Harden. They finished with the second best record in the Western Conference and the third best in the NBA. They cruised past the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs and outlasted the Clippers in the second. Then they ran into the Warriors in the conference finals and were promptly brushed away in five games, just like that.
The biggest difference between that team and this year’s version, which beat Golden State on Thursday night to pull within one game of an NBA Finals berth, is the presence of Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards of all-time and still a force at age 33. Paul, in his first season in Houston, has been the wingman Harden has needed for years, a second ball-handler and facilitator for a potent offense. He has quite simply turned a good team into a great one.
And that’s why the Rockets must have been absolutely terrified to see Paul come up lame late in Thursday’s win, limp to the bench with a hamstring injury and appear devastated even in the wake of an essential victory.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 25, 2018
After the game, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni sounded concerned about his point guard’s status, with Game 6 only two days away.
“We’ll see [if he’ll play in Game 6]. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow, but obviously you saw him limp off, and he’s a tough guy,” D’Antoni said. “They’ll do whatever they can do. If he’s there, great, good for him. If he isn’t, we have enough guys. It’s time for somebody else to step up.”
Paul himself told ESPN’s Marc Spears that he will be all right, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take him, given that the comments came while he was trying to escape the arena.
Just saw injured Rockets guard Chris Paul jump into a Maybach outside the Toyota Center and he said: “I will be all right.” I next asked about Game 6, Paul said: “Oh yeah,” before being whisked away.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) May 25, 2018
With Paul, Houston stands in strong position to advance to the Finals. The Rockets need to win only one of the next two games, one of which will be a Game 7 at home, and they’re coming off two straight impressive victories. But take away the point guard who has averaged 21.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists this postseason with by far his team’s second-highest usage rate, and things begin to look dicey. In fact, they begin to look like 2015 all over agin.