If a casual NBA fan read the box score without watching a single second of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the question written above would be an easy answer: NO.
A 29-point blowout is what is being shown on the surface, but mama always taught to never judge a book by its cover. If you actually dive inside Game 6, it is reminiscent of a line Selena Gomez sings in the theme song of the Disney channel cult classic Wizards of Waverly Place: “Everything is not what it seems.”
The Rockets made fans forget Chris Paul even existed with a 39-point showing in the first quarter as the good guys blitzed the Warriors right out the gate and jumped out to a 17-point lead. The lead shrunk to 10 after the Warriors got somewhat settled, but after the second quarter it was still very clear that the Rockets were playing like the better team.
However, halftime came and the switch flipped.
The Warriors made seven of 11 threes in the third and outscored the Rockets by 17 in the third quarter to make it a 7-point lead for the Warriors. So Golden State rode this momentum and had a brilliant third quarter but still only had a seven-point lead. The game was still very much in Houston’s grasp, and honestly, there was a chance there for the Rockets. In the early fourth, the lead jumped to 12 and I told myself that the Rockets overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and that if there was a time to do it, it was now.
Then I blinked, and the lead was 20, then 25, then 30. Then it was too late.
The fourth quarter was such a blur because the Rockets were hitting nothing while it seemed like the Warriors were hitting everything. The fourth quarter blew the game out of proportion and makes you forget that this was actually a competitive game through three quarters.
So, now that we’ve established that the score and the game were two different monsters, let’s try to throw CP3 in and see what kind of difference he could have made.
A big part of why the Warriors won the game was because the game was played in their fast and quick style and tempo, much similar to what James Harden likes to run when he brings the ball up. It puts the Rockets in an offensive rhythm, which was fine in the first half, but once the Warriors caught up, it was a wrap. The Rockets were asking to go into an offensive shootout with the Warriors, and that isn’t a matchup you want to go against because then the Splash Brothers combine for 14 threes and break open the game.
The Rockets won Games 4 and 5 by playing a much slower pace thanks in large part to the more traditional Point God style that CP3 brings. In Game 6, they were forced to play much quicker and sloppier, which led to their playoff-high 21 turnovers. Eric Gordon and Harden, the two primary ball-handlers for the Rockets last night, had 14 of the team’s 21 turnovers. If Paul is taking up the ball, I think it is safe to say that the Rockets commit fewer than 21 turnovers.
However, on the flip side, despite the Rockets committing more turnovers, the team actually scored more off of turnovers than the Warriors. Golden State scored 12 points off Houston’s 21 turnovers, while Houston scored 23 points off the 12 Golden State turnovers.
There is also the argument that the Rockets would not have won even if CP3 played yesterday. The Warriors were facing elimination for just the fifth time in the Kerr era, and the first time since Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. With the Warriors, arguably the greatest team ever assembled, facing elimination at home, there was no stopping the freight train known as the Warriors.
Once they got into a rhythm (it took nearly two quarters), there was no stopping them. Most of the shots the Warriors made from deep in the third quarter were contested and the Rockets couldn’t do much about it. The Warriors made their shots in the second half and outscored the Rockets by 64 points in the second half. Nothing went Houston’s way in the second half.
There is always the risk of this happening against the Warriors every time you face them. And last night, with the stakes as high as ever, the Warriors delivered. They have to be given credit for answering the call when it was time for them to show up.
If I had to give my personal opinion, I would have to go with the latter. I think CP3 tightens the game up if he plays, especially if he is playing with a healthy hamstring. But I do think the Warriors’ desperation and crowd momentum propels them to a Game 6 victory. They were a team on a mission in that second half and there is always the risk of this happening against the Warriors every time you face them. And last night, with the stakes as high as ever, the Warriors delivered. They have to be given credit for answering the call when it was time for them to show up.
Now, whether CP3 plays or sits for Game 7, it is the Rockets’ turn to answer the call. The Game 6 result is behind them, and to be honest, none of the first six games matter anymore. The Jazz and Timberwolves series are blurs at this point. And the 65 wins they had in the regular season don’t matter anymore.
The Rockets are in a one-game, winner-take-all series against the Warriors for a trip to the NBA Finals to try and secure the NBA Championship. And the Rockets have to focus on who will be playing for them in Game 7, whether Paul is on the floor or off of it.