Rockets A Win Away From Sending Champs Packing, But Paul Won’t Play
Houston has been left for dead at various points in this series – none more notably than heading into the fourth quarter of Game 4 down 10 on the road – but suddenly it’s 48 minutes from advancing to the franchise’s first NBA Finals in 23 years. But a second straight tightly contested win over the Warriors on Thursday came at a cost. Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury in the final minute of Game 5 and on Friday was ruled out for Game 6. Paul has missed four stretches in his career due to hamstring issues, the most recent of which was a three-game absence in March. None of those absences lasted fewer than two games, which could mean the Rockets have to find a way into the Finals without their second-best player.
After playing games of 104 and 103 possessions in Houston to open the series, the Rockets have played more at their pace. Game 4 featured 94 possessions and Game 5 had 96 and Houston was able to do what the only team to beat Golden State in the playoffs over the last three years – Cleveland – has occasionally done successfully: Slow things down and grind out a win.
The Rockets pulled out Game 5 even with James Harden shooting a brutal 5 for 21 from the field, including 0 for 11 from 3. They’ve won the last two games despite the likely MVP missing 20 straight shots from beyond the arc. Since Game 2, Harden is 8 for 44 from 3-point range and has just four more assists (20) than turnovers (16). And yet Houston has won three of those and finds itself a win from sending the Warriors golfing.
Injuries, injuries, injuries. Paul’s is the headliner, but Andre Iguodala has missed the past two games with a left leg injury, which has meant more minutes for rookie Jordan Bell. It also meant Quinn Cook was on the floor down the stretch when the Warriors needed a bucket late in Game 5, and he clanked a wide-open 3 that the Rockets were certainly glad to have him take.
Klay Thompson played Thursday despite suffering a knee injury in Game 4 and seemed to rediscover his shot a bit. After going 13 for 38 from the floor in Games 2 through 4, Thompson shot 8 of 14 in Game 5 and hit 4 of 7 from 3-point range en route to 23 points – 16 of which came in the fourth quarter as the Warriors struggled to find any offense elsewhere.
That leads us to Kevin Durant, who is averaging a cool 31.2 points in the series but has been a non-factor down the stretch. He’s shooting 18.8 percent in the fourth quarter (3 of 16) and has gone 1 for 9 – including 0 for 5 from 3-point range – during Games 4 and 5. He’s settling for contested jumpers a lot of the time, and he needs to be more assertive.
1. That’s the number of times the Warriors shot below 45 percent in back-to-back games during the regular season – and both of those games in late March came while Thompson, Durant, Steph Curry and Draymond Green rested. It happened again earlier in these playoffs – a sub 40-percent Game 4 in San Antonio followed by a 44.6 percent effort in their Game 5 win – but we’ve yet to see Golden State look as lost as they have the last two games, when they’ve shot 39.3 and 44.4 percent, respectively.
They haven’t shot below 45 percent in consecutive home playoff games since Games 5 and 7 of the 2016 Finals against the Cavaliers – which was the last and only time during this historic run of success that they’ve dropped back-to-back postseason games at Oracle Arena.
This would have projected as a bounce-back win for Golden State even before the Chris Paul injury, setting up an epic Game 7 in Houston, and the likelihood of a Warriors victory is even greater with Paul ruled out. Golden State opened as a 10 ½-point favorite immediately after Game 5 with Paul’s status up in the air, and that line has jumped to 12 after the Rockets announced he wouldn’t play.