The Houston Rockets came this close to beating the juggernaut Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Only a shooting slump of truly epic proportions and Chris Paul’s bum hamstring prevented the Rockets from advancing to the NBA Finals. After an offseason that saw them lose several key contributors, they adjusted and find themselves once again with the chance to conquer their boogeyman in Golden State. This is their best, and last, chance to do so.
Last year seemed like the perfect storm for the Rockets, who had constructed a team filled with long, athletic wings who complemented Paul and James Harden perfectly. But their shots didn’t fall and Paul suffered an injury at the worst possible time. This year, they have a few factors in their favor over last season, despite the lost depth over the offseason. The most obvious advantage is Kevin Durant’s presence, or lack thereof; he will miss the remainder of this series with a strained right calf, presenting Houston with an opening. Durant has been playing like the best player in the world over the last few weeks, and his absence will impact the Warriors, even if they have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the back court.
Paul is a year older, but healthier than last year, and Harden somehow managed to improve on his MVP season on his way to averaging 36 points per game. While the yearly fatigue issue is rearing its ugly head in Houston once more, this is the Rockets’ last chance to beat this Warriors team. They were constructed specifically for the purpose of taking down this dynasty; everything Daryl Morey has done over the last half-decade was with Golden State in mind. This may be the last year this version of the dynasty exists, with Durant’s impending free agency looming on the horizon. If the Rockets want to accomplish what they’ve set out to do every season in recent years, this is the time. Durant is down for the count, Harden and Paul are healthy, and the Warriors look as vulnerable as they ever have.
Paul’s decline will only increase as he ages; his ability as a floor general will keep him on the court for years to come, but he’s on his last legs as a legitimate No. 2 option. It’s hard to imagine Harden getting any better than he is right now, and Morey has left himself very little cap room to bring in reinforcements. Down 3-2, in Houston for Game 6, the Rockets know this is their last chance, and without Durant, the opportunity is there for the taking.