Charlie Pallilo: Clutch Rockets take big win, but Paul injury could be devastating

If Chris Paul can't return, Thursday night's win might be for naught.

Two games in a row that were excruciatingly intense and exhausting. And that was just watching them. After three non-close games to start the series, the Rockets and Warriors produced two epics this week with the Rockets taking both. But the Game 5 victory that has the Rockets within one more W of the NBA Finals could turn out to be a quintessentially Pyrrhic Victory. Pyrrhus was a Greek general who won an epic battle with the Romans, but suffered massive losses in the victory that caused grave damage going forward.

Chris Paul has a history of postseason injuries. If he is knocked out now by the hamstring injury suffered in the final minute of Game 5 this is by far the most devastating. And absolutely the cruelest since it was Paul’s second half magnificence that lifted the Rockets to be in position to win.  

James Harden somehow missed all 11 of his three point attempts Thursday. Over the last four games he is a feeble 8 for 44. If Paul can’t go or is significantly hobbled, Harden will have to be tremendous in either Game 6 or 7 for the Rockets to win.

The Rockets Game 4 win in Oakland was one of the greatest in franchise history. Facing going down three games to one, trailing 12-0 out of the shoot, then by 12 early in the fourth quarter against the Warrior juggernaut at Oracle Arena where Golden State had won an NBA record 16 straight home playoff games? If the Warriors ultimately win the West again, it downgrades the ultimate importance of the win, but no one should try to un-ring the bell of what an in-the-moment accomplishment it was.

If the Rockets are to ultimately win the series, here’s hoping for an ABBA game Monday night. You know (or should). The Winner Takes It All. All of the Western Conference anyway. Most would expect the Rockets-Warriors victor to dispatch the Celtics or LeBrons with relative ease, though if it’s the Rockets involved Paul’s condition would have something to say about that.

Big stretch

The play-out of the Rockets-Warriors series is the rightfully dominant topic of interest right now, but the Astros keep going about their business racking up wins. As the schedule works out, the Astros are in the midst of a stretch of four consecutive series against what very well could turn out to be the other four American League playoff teams. The Astros spend the weekend in Cleveland. The Indians have been mediocre this season but mediocrity should be enough for the Tribe to again win what is a woeful AL Central. Next the Astros visit Yankee Stadium for the first time since their three game collapse there during the American League Championship Series. Then it’s back home for four vs. the Red Sox then two vs. the Mariners.

The Yanks and Sox both look like 100+ win teams. If so, we will have the best team of the two Wild Cards per league era. Imagine going 103-59 but finishing second in your division. That’s what happened to the San Francisco Giants in 1993. There was no Wild Card yet then. The AL East runner-up will have to survive the one game season of the Wild Card game, but that’s a lot better than not making the playoffs at all.

On a historic run

Justin Verlander doesn’t have Randy Johnson’s mullet. He doesn’t have Roger Clemens’s force of personality. Verlander is as stupendously great right now as the Big Unit or Rocket ever were. Giving up one earned run in six innings vs. the Giants Wednesday increased Verlander’s ERA to 1.08. No American League ERA champ has finished below 2.00 since the awesome Pedro Martinez posted a 1.74 in 2000 (with hitter friendly Fenway Park as his home field, and in the peak of the steroid era). Verlander’s career best ERA is 2.40 in 2011. That year he won both the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. And Kate Upton turned 19.

Cup runneth over

Imagine if the 2002 Houston Texans had reached the Super Bowl. The expansion, David Carr running for his life almost every passing play Texans. Good one, right? Monday night the National Hockey League’s expansion Vegas Golden Knights have home ice advantage as they begin the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals. It’s already an incredible story. If the Knights actually win the Cup, it’s one of the most amazing team sports stories ever. This is the Capitals’ 43rd season. They have never won the Cup.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Indy 500 pick: Tony Kanaan. He was a good guest on the radio show this week.   2. Isn’t the NFL owners’ collective favorite color green? As opposed to red, white, and blue.  3. Best ever pro wrestling announcers: Bronze-Jim Ross Silver-Gordon Solie Gold-Bobby “The Brain” Heenan


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James Harden returned to Houston Monday night and lost to the Rockets in double overtime. After the game, Harden complimented the maturation of the Rockets young players, and had some nice things to say about Houston.

Harden has a player option and can opt out after the season, which has some Rockets fans wondering if he would consider returning to Houston and taking over as the team's primary ball handler.

Plus, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has said he wouldn't rule out Harden returning at some point.

Be sure to watch the video above as we break down all the angles involving a potential fit for James Harden with Houston's young core of players, and much more.

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Catch The Bench with John and Lance weekdays from 7-10 AM on ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

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