Chris Paul has been here before. Trying to get to the Conference Final. Three years ago, he lost to the Houston Rockets in a massive choke job, blowing a 3-1 series lead. Seven years before that he was up 3-2 over the Spurs, played almost every minute in game 7 at home (New Orleans) and lost. Tonight the Chris Paul black cloud (can’t get to the conference final so how is he the best point guard of his generation?) goes away with a victory that pushes Utah into summer vacay. It will happen. Chris Paul will finally, in year thirteen, have the chance to get to a NBA Final. It makes sense. It is logical. It has been a long time coming.
You don’t have to squint to read the Chris Paul fine print beneath his bio. He has hit game winners and tossed up lob passes that tore the Staples Center roof off. His career achievements tell you everything you need to know about Chris Paul. He has done everything and accomplished everything. Except what defines NBA players. Winning in the playoffs.
Something always happens to derail the Chris Paul championship train. Call it a curse or call it Donald Sterling karma or call it being denied a Laker birthright and so the universe had to have it’s say; call it just not being good enough as a team to move forward. Call it damn unlucky.
Chris Paul has paid his dues. He has had his low moments. He has been humbled. He has made playoff mistakes. It is coming to an end.
On his team is a rebounder athlete great in pick and roll, Clint Capela. There is an explosive and crafty scorer, James Harden. There is the shot maker Paul was once traded for, Eric Gordon. Chris has a Hall of Fame worthy coach and offensive master mind, Mike D’Antoni, who has been locked out of the NBA Finals trophy hunt just like Chris Paul.
Losing because of injury or because of fragility or because of mistakes or because of fatigue comes down to the same thing: losing. But this year, all the Chris Paul dark cloudiness may be in the rear view mirror. He escaped the cursed Clippers. This year is turning out to be something special.
The Rockets are the second best team in the NBA right now. I say right now because with the Rockets you always have to add the qualifier if. If they make their threes. If they don’t get arrogant, like in Game 2 against Utah. If they play defense like they care.
The Rockets nonbelievers-and who can blame them, the Rockets take you on these wild pendulum swings only to break your heart- say it is different. We have the MVP. Chris Paul’s toughness adds some things. P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green were solid additions, not to mention Luc Mbah a Moute. But. Let’s see what happens when they play the Warriors which will happen in about a week. We’ll judge then.
But what if?
What if this is the year (finally) of not holding your Chris Paul breath? What if the depth of the Rockets and their improving defense and their hunger has them on a Warriors like run. Dominant in the regular season. Dominant in the conference finals.
Playoffs stats. Compared with the 16 team field, the Rockets are 12th in field goal percentage and 12th in 3-point percentage and good at free throw shooting (5th) and below average offensive rebounders (14th) and aggressive rebounding the other teams misses (6th) and 11th in assists and 5th in steals and 2nd in blocked shots and they don’t turn the ball over when Chris Paul is orchestrating things.
How has the Rockets playoff defense fared? They are 10th ( out of 16 teams) in field goal percentage defense and 13th in 3-point percentage defense. Their defensive rating puts them at the top of the playoff class, 103.0. The Warriors defensive rating is 102.2
The worst defender of the starters is Trevor Ariza/P.J. Tucker who have a defensive rating of 106.
- Chris Paul: 101
- James Harden: 101
- Clint Capela: 98
Their offense can be blistering.
- They are beating Utah by 16.
- They beat Minnesota by 15.
Which brings us back to Chris Paul. A Rockets defense and Chris Paul are the ingredients that have the Rockets in the driver’s seat for the conference final and a chance to knock off the loved defending champions. Paul has never advanced past the second round. The Rockets still have to prove they can defend the fast moving, shooting off the bounce and on the run Warriors and that they can guard Kevin Durant mano y mano.
Chris Paul has a tough task. Keep the Rockets happy but hungry and focused. Remain injury free. But he’s closer to a Western Conference Finals berth than he has ever been in his career. He is the leader of a team that will be underdogs against the champion Warriors. But The Rockets have never had someone with Chris Paul’s toughness.
Paul was drafted in 2005. No one imagined in 2018 it would be his first conference final. Of course, it was going to happen. But no one expected who it was going to be with. Houston.
I wonder what Doc Rivers is thinking.