Had the Astros not won the city’s first major sports championship in over 20 years just several months ago, the image of Chris Paul limping stone-faced off the Toyota Center hardwood during the closing moments of Game 5 would have undoubtedly evoked nothing less but the #Houstonsports emotion. But if our curse has been lifted, then why are the Gods in this moment being so cruel? Daryl Morey assembled this team last summer with the intended goal of topping the Warriors, making that point very clear throughout the season, inviting universal mockery along the way. Houston’s Game 1 performance only cemented the belief that nothing had changed and that the club was really a pretender. But after taking three of four from the Warriors, you had better damn well believe that the Rockets would not have lost the next two with a fully healthy Chris Paul. The Rockets had their mojo and had figured out this Warriors motion offense in a way almost everyone thought was impossible. That’s why this hurts so bad, not just for the team and its fans, but for Paul, a player whose entire legacy was on the verge of validation against the backdrop of undue criticisms regarding his ability to “get it done.” In those fourth quarters of Games 4 and Game 5, Houston looked almost as if it had memorized Golden State’s playbook, anticipating every pass, relegating that team’s offense to the same isoball spreads for which the Rockets had been mercilessly denigrated all week long.
In some ways, I might’ve preferred the Warriors jumping Houston from the start of Game 6 and ending the misery quickly. That would’ve staved off the rollercoaster you and I endured for the duration of two hours, commencing with a “happy to be here, house money” feeling, moving on to the “oh my God, they can actually do this” vibes taken into halftime, and culminating with the despair of hopelessness of the second half. I couldn’t breathe in the first 24 minute frame, letting my mind wander to the possibilities of the club’s first trip to the Finals during my adulthood. Were they really about to do this? Houston had many breakdowns defensively, yes, but the officiating was a complete and utter disgrace the likes of which the league should be embarrassed about. They won’t. James Harden drove repeatedly into the teeth of the defense, and repeatedly was mauled, not earning a single trip to the line on those drives the entire game. Some on Twitter took objection to this call of attention towards the obvious, simplistically framing it as more excuses from the losing team. That line of thinking is flawed. A team can play poorly in some facets and also be harmed by biased officiating. This is not to say the Rockets would have won had the game been called fairly. But the Rockets already had enough of an uphill climb.
Curiously, the TNT broadcast opined on the prospects of Game 7 as if Paul had already been ruled out. I found this odd because, barring a formal announcement, I assumed that almost undoubtedly, if he could even move, he would drag his leg up the court and give it a go. But I’m no doctor, at least not in real life, so that expectation may be completely unreasonable. Game 7 is tomorrow. Maybe I’ll write something else in the morning?