HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets are one win away from the NBA Finals. But they won’t have the services of Chris Paul, at least during their first attempt to get it.
While Houston was jubilant in the wake of a 98-94 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of this best-of-seven series, the celebrations inside Houston’s locker room were muted after Paul suffered a right hamstring injury in the game’s final minute. Friday morning, the Rockets announced that Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain. He will be re-evaluated when the Rockets return to Houston, according to the team. Houston leads the series, 3 games to 2.
“I hope he’s healthy,” Trevor Ariza said Thursday night, before the Rockets had ruled Paul out. “I hope he gets better and, if not, somebody else has to step up and do what we’ve been doing all year, step in and try to help this team win.”
The injury was so bad that immediately after Paul suffered it after taking a shot in the lane that missed, he remained on the ground as Golden State stormed back the other way on a 5-on-4 advantage. Houston got bailed out, however, when Quinn Cook — who didn’t exactly look confident in such a big moment — missed a wide open three-pointer on the right wing while Paul stood and watched helplessly from 50 feet away.
Paul eventually checked out of the game with 22.7 seconds remaining, watching the game in a slumped position on the bench and only getting up once to huddle with his teammates during a stoppage in play.
When Houston won the game, Paul limped — very slowly — back to Houston’s locker room, where he didn’t speak to reporters after the game because he was receiving getting treatment.
“Was he hurt?” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni joked after the game. “I didn’t see that.
D’Antoni said trainers and doctors would “do whatever they can do” for Paul, and that if he’s unavailable, it will be “time for somebody else to step up.
“We’ve got plenty of guys over there that will have some fresh legs, that’s for sure,” the coach said. “So we’ll be all right.”
Whether D’Antoni is actually right about that remains to be seen. Houston was already operating on a thin margin; the Rockets have essentially employed a six-man rotation the past two games, with Gerald Green getting about 15 minutes as the seventh man.
Paul carried Houston in the second half of Game 5, scoring 18 of his 20 points. James Harden, meanwhile, has missed 20 consecutive three-point attempts since the second quarter of Game 4, and went 5-for-21 in Game 5 overall. He’s known for declining as a series goes on; now he may have to carry the entire load for the Rockets.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Oakland; a Game 7, if necessary, would be Monday night back in Houston.
HOUSTON — For the better part of two seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been on cruise control. They waltzed through the playoffs last year in one of the dominant postseason performances of all time, winning their second title in three seasons with just one postseason loss.
Many expected a similar display this postseason. The Houston Rockets have other ideas, and after dealing the defending champs a 98-94 loss in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, the Warriors find themselves, stunningly, on the brink of elimination.
For the second straight game, the Rockets outplayed the Warriors in the fourth quarter, this time winning the final 12 minutes by a 27-22 margin. Golden State will return home for Saturday’s Game 6 trailing the best-of-seven series 3-2.
The Warriors find themselves in this position following a frenetic final two minutes that saw the game devolve into a series of mistakes and one key player — Houston’s Chris Paul — being knocked out of the game, and possibly the remainder of the series, with a hamstring injury.
As a second half that saw 16 lead changes and nine ties dragged on, the Rockets held a 95-94 lead with 1:21 remaining after Houston’s Eric Gordon and Golden State’s Draymond Green exchanged three-pointers. Then Paul tried to put up a shot in the lane that missed, and he fell to the ground grabbing at his leg.
With Paul prone on the floor, Green pushed the ball upcourt, knowing his team had a man advantage. The ball found its way into the hands of Quinn Cook, the former DeMatha star who started the season in the G Leage. Cook, who frankly looked terrified to even be on the court in such a situation, had so much time that he bobbled the ball twice before eventually corralling it. With no one within several feet of him, he let fire an off-target three-pointer.
Another Rockets miss at the other end, this time by Harden, led to a timeout for Golden State, which had a chance to take the lead while Paul watched from the bench. But Stephen Curry’s runner on the right side missed, and Houston’s Trevor Ariza grabbed the rebound.
Ariza was immediately fouled, but made just one of two free throws — giving Golden State back the ball, with a chance to bring it the length of the floor, with 6.7 seconds remaining. But after Curry took the inbounds pass, he threw it ahead to Green — who simply dropped the ball for Golden State’s 18th and final turnover.
Houston’s fans went home happy, albeit with no small amount of concern about the fate of Paul’s hamstring. The all-star guard was seen limping very slowly into the locker room after the game. His status for Game 6 remains in question.
Gordon led Houston with 24 points off the bench, while Paul had 20 — 18 of which came in the second half — to go with seven rebounds and six assists. Harden had 19 points and four assists but shot 5-for-21 overall, including a staggering 0-for-11 from beyond the arc.
Golden State, however, couldn’t take advantage. Kevin Durant led Golden State with 29 points but settled for too many isolations during the game, taking the Warriors out of their offense. The Warriors also got 23 points from Klay Thompson and 22 from Curry and 12 points, 15 rebounds and four assists from Green, but only got eight combined points from the other six players that saw time in this game.
Fatigue showed on both teams, with so many key players on playing 40 or more minutes in Tuesday’s thriller back in Oakland. The result was a game that was a compelling combination of sloppy and tense.
Houston threatened to put the game away a few times in the first half, aided by Golden State’s five first-quarter turnovers. The Warriors, much like they were in a Game 2 loss here, were sloppy the entire first half and had nine giveaways by halftime.
Houston was unable to take advantage. Harden and Paul shot a combined 4-for-20 in the first half — including missing all 10 of their attempts from three-point range.
As a result, Golden State was able to recover from an 11-point deficit in the first quarter and, while never leading in the first half, went into halftime tied at 45 thanks to scoring the final eight points of the half.
The second half then devolved into a tense, taut affair, with the lead going back and forth and the score rarely going more than three points in either direction.
But it was Houston that made enough plays down the stretch. Golden State is on the brink of elimination, the state of Paul’s hamstring will be on both teams’ minds over the next 48 hours.
The Rockets, a team that thrives off getting to the foul line repeatedly, will be in the bonus for the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.
That’s a significant development in a game they already lead by four with 5:59 remaining. It could give Houston the ability to ice this game from the line, something James Harden has done time and again this season en route to what should be a Most Valuable Player Award.
There was once a time when Chris Paul and Stephen Curry were close. Curry grew up in North Carolina, and adored Paul when he starred at Wake Forest.
Those days, however, are long in the past.
Watching the first half of Game 5, any neutral observer would think that Houston should be up by at least 10, and maybe 20, points.
Instead, the score at halftime is tied at 45.
Golden State held Houston scoreless over the final 3:15 of the first half, scoring the last eight points on a three by Kevin Durant (plus two more free throws) and three free throws from Draymond Green.
Despite committing nine turnovers and both Green and Klay Thompson playing uncharacteristically bad halves, Golden State still managed to hang around thanks to Houston shooting 35.6 percent overall and 6-for-24 from three-point range.
James Harden is 4-for-13, including 0-for-7 from three, while Chris Paul has two points, missing all seven of his shots.
Simply put, the Rockets look like they’re out of gas after playing four players more than 40 minutes in their Game 4 victory. Tough to see Houston winning unless that changes.
Before the series started, I wrote about how I believed Clint Capela was the X-factor that could tip the Western Conference finals in Houston’s favor.
In the biggest game of this NBA season, he’s been the X-factor that has Houston ahead late in the first half.
Capela has eight points, 10 rebounds and two incredible blocks — stoning Draymond Green and Kevin Durant at the rim — to prop up the Rockets, who are 6-for-43 from the field and 5-for-23 from three. Still, they lead by three because of superior energy, Golden State’s profligacy with the ball and Capela’s monstrous presence in the paint, which has allowed for eight more shots.
In a game this ugly, eight more shots is a huge difference.
When the Warriors don’t turn the ball over, they win.
When the Warriors do turn the ball over, they win — sometimes.
Halfway through the second quarter, Golden State already has nine turnovers. Houston, meanwhile, has three. That’s allowed the Rockets to build a nine-point lead here in the second.
So, too, have the struggles of Klay Thompson, who has been awful. He and Draymond Green each have three turnovers, while Stephen Curry has two. Those three are also a combined 4-for-13 from the field. Golden State simply needs more from all of them.
Meanwhile, James Harden and Chris Paul are 2-for-13 overall, and 0-for-8 from three. If the Rockets had been told before the game they would be winning by nine midway through the second with those stat totals, they’d have been thrilled.
Golden State’s turnovers are the reason.
Kevin Durant has shown up for the Warriors. Will any of his teammates join him?
Houston leads 28-17 early in the second quarter and if not for Durant, that lead would be a lot bigger.
Durant already has 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting. The rest of the Warriors combined are 3-for-11, including 0-for-5 from three-point range.
Houston may rue the opportunity it blew to extend the lead more later in the game. The Rockets dominated the first quarter, yet only led by six. But if the Warriors don’t get themselves in gear soon, it may not matter anyway.
And there is The Washington Post Live Blog jinx.
Immediately after saying the Warriors were in good shape after the way the first six minutes played out, the Rockets immediately went on a 9-0 run, including back-to-back three-pointers by Gerald Green, to put Houston ahead 19-8.
The Rockets aren’t shooting well — 8-for-21 overall and 3-for-11 from three — but Golden State has looked horrible offensively. Other than Kevin Durant being able to get to the basket, the Warriors can’t get anything going. Stephen Curry has missed both wide open threes he’s taken, while Klay Thompson still doesn’t look right after hurting his knee in Game 4.
Houston is winning on the scoreboard, but Golden State is the winner through the first six minutes of Game 5.
Houston should be winning by more than the 13-8 margin it holds a little over halfway through the first quarter. The Rockets have gotten two offensive rebounds, but failed to score both times, and have forced three turnovers, also failing to score all three times.
Change either of those stats, and this game is closer to the double-digit lead it feels like the Rockets should have.
The Warriors appear to be rushing on virtually every offensive set. And Clint Capela has been a monster inside, putting up a quick eight points and six rebounds. He remains a critical factor in this series, particularly now that Golden State is without Andre Iguodala.
Before the start of the game, the hometown Rockets honored the 10 victims of last week’s shooting at Santa Fe High School, located about 35 minutes south of the city.
The school’s superintendent and principal were on the court before the game, as were first responders from the local fire and police departments. The more than 300 seniors from the high school were all seated together in an upper deck section as guests of Rockets Owner Tillman Fertitta, a native of Galveston County, where the school is located.
“All my Galveston county and Santa Fe friends, we are thinking of you,” Fertitta said in addressing the crowd before the game. “We are here to support y’all, and thank you for doing us a favor and being here tonight on this occasion.”
Fertitta then handed off the microphone to local rapper Travis Scott, who had a message of his own for the seniors, who he asked have a spotlight shined upon them.
“We love you,” Scott said. “You are the strongest people on this earth. Thank you for being heroes to all of us. Let’s go Rockets!”
Twelve honor students from the school were on the court holding American and Texas flags, and nine members of the school’s choir that sang the national anthem.
A crisis has been averted in Houston before Game 5. Well, not really — just the appearance of one.
About 75 minutes before Game 5, three people were huddled on the court inside Toyota Center — two of them holding towels — and staring at the ceiling as liquid dripped down to the court.
It looked like there was a roof leak, which is the last thing anyone wanted before the biggest game of the season.
It turns out, though, that the issue was slightly less problematic. A short time later, it was discovered there wasn’t a leak. Instead, a water bottle had tipped over on the catwalk above the court, spilling the water onto it.
The bottle was retrieved, the water cleaned up, and the game will go on as scheduled.
The Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets was billed, at the start, as a clash of the titans. It has since become a war of attrition.
Game 5 between these two teams will take place Thursday night in Houston, and one of the key things to watch will be the fatigue factor on both sides.
For Golden State, Andre Iguodala is out again a knee contusion. Klay Thompson will suit up, but he didn’t look the same after suffering a knee sprain in the second quarter of Game 4. Stephen Curry is still getting his conditioning back to where it was at the start of the season, after missing 37 games between the regular season and playoffs because of several ankle sprains and a sprained MCL. An unbalanced roster, plus Patrick McCaw likely being done for the season with a back injury, has left the Warriors painfully thin rotation-wise.
That’s not to say Houston has no issues. Chris Paul is dealing with a foot injury. Luc Mbah a Moute has been excised from the rotation after dislocating his shoulder twice this season; his unwillingness to risk doing so a third time dunking the ball has made him unplayable offensively. Data shows James Harden regularly fatigues as series progress, and he’s faded significantly from start to finish in all four games thus far.
Four players on each team played roughly 40 or more minutes in Game 4. That will likely be the case again in Game 5, and in Games 6 and — if necessary — 7, as well. With this much on the line, both Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni and Warriors Coach Steve Kerr are going to lean on their best players, and let the chips fall where they may.
That will lead to tired legs and tired decision-making just as it did in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when both teams looked punch drunk in the final minutes.
Whoever handles that fatigue better will prevail Thursday night, and likely in this series.
Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets (series tied, 2-2): 9 p.m., TNT
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