So when news broke Friday morning that Paul might miss Game 6 with an apparent hamstring injury, it was the kind of thing that could change the entire complexity of the game and series.
Before Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury in the closing moments of Houston's Game 5 win over the Golden State Warriors, he was having one of the high points of his National Basketball Association career. A hamstring injury sidelined Paul for five games in January 2012, seven games in December 2016 and January 2017, and three games in March this season.
"I hate it for him, above all", coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I hate it for [Paul], above all". "He's practically won us the last two games". That's likely the type of performance the Rockets will need in this game six. "May the Houston Rockets make the Finals".
With Paul, Houston went 50-8, equivalent to a whopping 71-win clip. The bulk of his offensive touches have come in the post area, and Houston has done a great job of suffocating him in an area of the court that is hard to survey. The Cavaliers have been revealed to be LeBron James and not much else while the Warriors have been goaded into playing Houston's game and are coming up short.
While James Harden has struggled, Paul has assumed the load of the go-to star. "He wanted to be out there, and for sure he's anxious. we'll see tomorrow how it goes". "We want to keep our same swag and positive energy". "We'll just continue to take it day to day.".
Rockets guard Eric Gordon will start in Paul's place, while Luc Mbah a Moute and Ryan Anderson might play more. Draymond Green said Golden State "figured something out" on the offensive end. Like Paul, Gordon can score, initiate offense, space the floor off Harden, switch through perimeter assignments and play bigger than his size on defense.
"[The trainers] will do whatever they can do", D'Antoni said. "We'll play the exact same way".
But putting those things aside, Durant and the defending champions can get back to being themselves again by moving the ball better and not simply winging it around like a frisbee. And if they're unable to do that, they may be faced with the same dilemma in Game 7.