Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets got off to a chippy start.
Not only did Draymond Green get called for a technical foul 67 seconds into the game and probably deserve another or two, but Chris Paul and Kevin Durant were getting into it. CP3, who can be dirty on the sly at times, nailed Durant with an elbow and avoided a call.
Girl, you looks good, won't you… pic.twitter.com/AwPimAAmvK
— nick (@nick_pants) May 15, 2018
Beyond that, there was some trash talk between the two. Durant was saying that the Rockets and CP3 can’t guard him. Paul told Durant to “play ball.”
“Can’t guard me.” – Kevin Durant pic.twitter.com/9XNWTDTt3T
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) May 15, 2018
“Play ball.” – CP3 to Durant pic.twitter.com/h6FE2Gb945
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) May 15, 2018
After an unforgettable offseason and regular season, the highly anticipated NBA playoffs have lived up to expectations. Could this league get any hotter?
The Cavs looked like they were dead, then LeBron James shifted into god mode. Now their title hopes look as strong as they have all season. The injury-riddled Celtics have far surpassed expectations, defeating two teams that appeared to have more talent, including three of the league’s brightest young stars (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid).
In the West, meanwhile, the two best teams have cruised. We now get to see the matchup fans have anticipated all season: Warriors versus Rockets.
With the conference finals getting underway this weekend (Cavs-Celtics Sunday afternoon, Warriors-Rockets Monday night), here are 12 matchups that could very well dictate which teams end up as the final two standing.
- NBA playoffs 2018
Chris Paul reached the conference finals for the first time in his career, and he really carried the load in order to get there.
The Houston Rockets guard scored 41 points on 13 of 22 shooting, including 8-for-10 on three-pointers in his team’s 112-102 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of their playoff series on Tuesday night. Paul seemed to know that it was on him to give the Rockets a little more than usual.
CP3 told TNT’s Kristen Ledlow in a postgame interview that star teammate James Harden was “under the weather” for the game.
That likely explains Harden’s off night — an 18-point performance, which marked his second-lowest point total of the postseason. Harden was just 7-for-22 from the field in 35 minutes and did not look like his usual self.
The Rockets now move on to the Western Conference finals where they will face the winner of the Warriors-Pelicans series. Houston had the best record in the regular season, but the Warriors are the defending champions and would be favored in a series.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, especially if their name is Chris Paul.
With a blowout win on Monday, the Houston Rockets took a 3-1 lead in their first-round series against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Addressing reporters on Tuesday, James Harden hinted that Paul was wary of the lead and brought up the 3-1 advantage his old team, the LA Clippers, blew to (ironically) the Rockets in the 2015 playoffs, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
James Harden said Chris Paul has brought up the Rockets comeback from down 3-1. "He's mentioned it."
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) April 24, 2018
Paul has good reason to preach caution — he still has yet to make a conference finals in his 13-year career and (unfair or not) carries a bit of a reputation as a playoff choker, aided in part by that notorious collapse in 2015.
As for the Rockets, they now head into a potential closeout Game 5 at home Wednesday against the Wolves and obviously cannot get ahead of themselves. The good news though is that their leaders won’t let them get overconfident.
This NBA season has been one for the books. Think of all the narratives: the drama-filled Cavs, the injury-riddled Celtics, the red-hot Rockets and Raptors, the crazy trade deadline, the inconsistent Warriors — the list goes on.
With the playoffs approaching (they start this Saturday), we still don’t know which teams will match up. Will Houston square off with Utah, New Orleans, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, or Denver? Considering the unpredictability of this season, your guess is as good as mine.
Though we don’t yet know which teams will see each other, we do have an idea of which players will play a salient role in shaping the NBA playoffs. Here’s a look at 15 of those players.
15. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak has looked a year away from total domination this season. Though many fans expected the Bucks would make the leap to become an Eastern Conference contender this year, the squad has disappointed. They underperformed with Jason Kidd, who was fired midway through the season, and they’ve underperformed with Joe Prunty. Giannis will need to be at his best — he’ll need to be ready now — for Milwaukee to steal a series. He missed Saturday’s game against New York with ankle soreness, the sixth game he’s missed this year.
14. Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey both seemed supremely confident the Chris Paul/James Harden experiment would be a hit. This season has made them look like prophets. The Rockets, behind their voluminous three-point shooting, have been easily the best team in the league, cruising to a 64-16 record. Their postseason success will ultimately boil down to the success of their two stars. Paul has never made it to the NBA Finals — could this be the year he finally breaks through? He has his best supporting cast to date.
Houston Rockets star Chris Paul is looking to (literally) pay it forward after one of his teammates came to his defense during a game on Sunday.
In the fourth quarter of Houston’s 129-120 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wolves big man Gorgui Dieng took exception to Paul swiping at the ball after a whistle and shoved him to the ground. Rockets swingman Gerald Green responded by pushing down Dieng right back. Take a look:
— Adam Wexler (@KPRC2AdamW) March 19, 2018
After the game, Paul said he was willing to pay any fine that Green might get as a result of the incident, per the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen.
Chris Paul, by the way, said he would pick up any fine that comes Green's way for the incident. https://t.co/Z7Ssk26BNo
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) March 19, 2018
The Rockets improved to a league-best 56-14 with the win, and it is obvious that their team is as tight-knit as they are talented. At least this is a better chemistry-building moment than last time they got into it with an opponent.
James Harden certainly knows how to show love to a teammate.
Harden was asked in an interview with Complex whom he would select with his top pick if he were a captain for the All-Star Game. His answer was one of his teammates.
“If I had the first pick, I would pick Chris Paul,” Harden told Complex. “He’s not on the All-Star team, but he should be.”
True, Paul did not make the All-Star team, but this is a great sign about the chemistry between the two.
Houston’s experiment of acquiring Paul in a trade with the Clippers is paying off in a big way. The Rockets entered play on Wednesday a half-game behind the Warriors for the best record in the league. Harden and CP3 are getting along, and Paul’s decision to leave behind his “toxic” matters in LA certainly seems like a wise one.