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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The Texans have a big decision to make. Composite image by Jack Brame

The last few weeks have brought us some very interesting episodes of "As Kirby Turns." Cal McNair has admitted he hasn't spoken with Deshaun Watson and has also doubled down on his affinity for Jack Easterby by saying he's staying around. The franchise's only member of their Ring of Honor, Andre Johnson, came completely out of character by tweeting his support for Watson to "stand his ground" in what most assume is his desire to play elsewhere. Newly hired general manager Nick Caserio has the hardest job in the NFL because he's basically a one leg man in a bleep kicking contest. National and local media are all floating rumors and opinions about Watson's status with the team. Meanwhile, Watson himself has been cryptic and hasn't come out and said one thing either way about his status with the team.

My opinion is that he won't be traded and this is his way of using the leverage he has to get some things done his way to ensure more of his career won't be wasted. Once they hire a head coach he approves of and they talk, he'll be back in the fold and blow things over by saying he never demanded a trade and was only upset about some things due to miscommunication. Blah blah blah. However, where there's smoke, there must be fire. I'll examine some pros and cons to a potential trade of Watson.

Bad news first. This franchise has waited its entire existence for a franchise quarterback like Watson. Finally getting one and having to deal him amidst the bumbling owner and charlatan right-hand man would be a big blow to overcome. This coming year is shaping up to be difficult as it is, but doing so with Watson wearing a different jersey could prove to be a near fatal blow. It would take an additional year or so to recover. The only way this timeline is expedited, is if they get a quarterback back in the trade or with one of the draft picks that they feel can be the man moving forward.

The bright side. Watson is this team's most attractive asset as it looks to rebuild. There are teams in the top five of this year's draft who need quarterbacks, and a couple of them have multiple first round picks. The Jets, #2 and #23 overall in the first round this draft, are the most intriguing destination because they may be bad next season with Watson if you get that pick in the trade as well. Throw in Sam Darnold, who's still young and salvageable, and this could be a hard reset that may not take as long. The Dolphins, #3 and #18 overall this draft, also have a lot to offer. Rumor has it Watson would like to go to Miami in a deal that includes Tua Tagovailoa, who was a guy Caserio liked when entering the draft. Again, another potential hard reset that may not take long if either young quarterback pans out. You could also trade back from those top slots to acquire more picks to help fill some of the many holes you have.

I reiterate, I do not believe Watson will be traded. I'm not even sure his no trade clause is applicable since he's still under his rookie contract and his extension hasn't kicked in yet. The new CBA rules call for stiffer penalties for players who refuse to report, so a holdout is highly unlikely. I'll be glad when they hire a coach Watson likes, and we get the happy family press conference introducing him, so this soap opera can move on to its next episode.

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