It\’s not hyperbole to refer to tonight as the biggest game in Rockets history since 1995. You could argue that only Game 7 in 1994 against the Knicks was bigger. The two Game 7\’s against Phoenix were in the semifinals, and Houston never faced elimination in the Finals against Orlando or in the conference finals either year. Game 6 in 1997–the Stockton game–also was not for all the chips, though before today it probably stood up there in second place. Nothing that has happened ever since has been even remotely close in significance. The Game 7 Houston played against Kobe\’s Lakers, without either Yao or McGrady, never even felt like the good guys had a chance.
At the time of writing, there still has not been news regarding Chris Paul\’s status which possibly is a good sign if one wants to take an optimist\’s viewpoint. My guess is that he\’ll give it a go if it\’s even remotely possible; they won\’t need him to dispose of a bad Cleveland team, though I\’m probably being foolish underestimating Lebron James. This is it tonight. This is what Houston played 82 games to reach, and tragically, what they had in mind when they made the deal for Paul. To give themselves a shot to topple the Warriors in front of their own fans on Polk Street. They\’ll need to clean up their play from the other night, and they\’ll need a fair game called. And apart from James Harden and Eric Gordon, they\’ll need an unlikely hero to fill the void. Maybe it will be Paul, in a Willis Reed impression, limping up and down the floor in the most courageous performance in Houston sports history? Or maybe it\’s Gerald Green, who\’s had enough big moments of his own this series to make his defense palatable. It\’s amazing to think of where we started and where we\’ve come. Daryl Morey and Mike D\’Antoni, cognizant of Ryan Anderson\’s limitations in such a matchup, started the process of marginalizing the power forward after the break, until he became merely a luxury. He\’s now completely out of the rotation, as are Luc Mbah a Moute and Nene, the latter two having become entrenched in the Houston lineup throughout the season. Houston was somehow down to just seven players, before Paul went down last week.
Harden is this league\’s MVP and can resoundingly silence all of his critics with a knockout punch of the Warriors tonight. The shooting touch which had betrayed him came back Friday night, but he struggled at the rim, repeatedly mauled in taking on eight defenders. Those same calls, in theory, should be there in front of a home crowd. The outcome of this game will change history. If Houston somehow pulls it out, the victory will cement Harden\’s legacy, and Paul\’s too. If they lose, Morey will likely look to bigger things, yet again, in the offseason. But regardless of what happens, this season was a complete success. Houston won the most games in the league, and not only hung with Golden State, but had them on the ropes ripe for the fatal blow which likely would have come had Paul not gone down. Don\’t let anyone tell you otherwise.