Around much of the Western Conference, the dominance of the Warriors, who rolled through the postseason with 16 wins in 17 games last year, sent a chill through front offices. Better to focus on the future, the thinking went, then to take on the futile task of slowing down the Golden State juggernaut in the present.
The key player
For a guy who has never played this deep in the postseason, Chris Paul is certainly storming his way into the conference finals. In Houston’s closeout game against Utah in the conference semifinals, Paul was nearly unstoppable, scoring 41 points on 13-for-22 shooting, including 8-for-10 from the 3-point line, where he had been struggling (29.4 percent) all postseason.
That’s the big difference in this Houston team. Harden has had several duds in the playoffs this year, but the rest of the team has been there to boost him when he does — the Rockets are 4-0 when Harden shoots below 40 percent from the field. Paul, in those games, shoots 48.8 percent and has averaged 26.8 points per game. In his four previous postseasons with Houston, Harden had shot below 40 percent 15 times, and the Rockets were 5-10.
Paul needs to continue to be that offensive safety net for the Rockets in the conference finals. Oh, and, at the same time, he’s got to figure out a way to corral Stephen Curry consistently.
During the season, Paul guarded Curry on 16.0 possessions per game and allowed 38.5 percent shooting. Eric Gordon, who figures to get some reps guarding Curry, defended Curry on 17.0 possessions, but allowed 66.7 percent shooting in those situations.