The 2018 NBA Playoffs have been a strange one as, despite a run where it seemed like every game was a blowout, ratings have been shooting up steadily. Perhaps it’s due to that sense of inevitability that Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors seemed destined to match-up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third-consecutive season in the NBA Finals.
That sense of destiny has been put on hold thanks to the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, who now both find themselves in control of their respective conference finals series over those aforementioned teams. The Cavaliers have been revealed to be LeBron James and not much else while the Warriors have been goaded into playing Houston’s game and are coming up short. These strange playoffs are suddenly even stranger because the world-beating Warriors are suddenly up against the wall without enough answers for Chris Paul.
Not only has the point guard regained his form, averaging 21.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists this postseason, but he’s finally helped put together the puzzle alongside James Harden to make the Rockets as complete as they’ve been in decades. His 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and four three-pointers in Game 5 were the difference in getting Houston the series lead.
So when news broke Friday morning that Paul might miss Game 6 with an apparent hamstring injury, it was the kind of thing that could change the entire complexity of the game and series. And then when it was announced that Paul’s postseason was over, all eyes turned back towards the Warriors with two immediate thoughts:
- Well, you guys better win the series now.
- But even if you do, it comes with an asterisk.
Here’s the thing. It was entirely possible that the Warriors still could have won Games 6 and 7 against Paul and the Rockets, but, of course, we’ll never know now. The Warriors are talking the talk that they don’t feel added pressure being down 3-2 in the seven-game series, but they do have a legacy to maintain and that doesn’t include losing before the NBA Finals even if the Rockets were the top seed in the West. But now, even if they do take this series to seven and then pull off the victory, everyone is always going to wonder whether or not that’s because they took it up a notch or because they didn’t have to since Paul wasn’t there to maestro the Rockets’ offense.
All of this can still be a moot point as the Rockets remain capable of winning at least one of the two remaining games, including a Game 7 in Houston. But this kind of bad luck leaves a hole that fans are more than happy to fill with conspiracy theories and what-could-have-beens. It’s going to be a bitter pill for Rockets fans to swallow if their team doesn’t make it to the NBA Finals and they’re almost certainly going to say that the Warriors are only there because of luck.
And you know what, crazy as it sounds, they might have a point.