WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Fred Faour: 5 quick thoughts on the Rockets' amazing Game 5 win over the Warriors

Chris Paul (left) was awesome. James Harden (right) was not. Tim Warren/Getty Images

The Rockets are one game away from the NBA Finals. They grinded out an ugly, clutch 98-94 win over the Warriors to take a 3-2 series lead. They now have two shots to make it to the Finals. They did not play well on offense in Game 5, but their defense was terrific. It was a great win, especially considering the emotional start with Santa Fe High school in the house. Here are five quick thoughts on an amazing win:

1) Doing it with defense: The Rockets forced 16 turnovers and for the fifth time in the series, the team that won the turnover battle won the game. As in Game 4, the Rockets offense faltered down the stretch, but the defense locked it down. People look to their offense, but let's give the Rockets credit for playing fantastic defense, especially in the last two games. They have held the Warriors under 100 points in two straight games, which is no small feat.

2) Where is the MVP? James Harden had a terrible shooting game. He did his best to grind out some points at the line and on drives, but was 0-for-11 on 3s. He finished with just 19 points on 5 of 21 shooting. That the Rockets won the game despite that was a credit to just how gritty this team actually played. If the MVP can show up one of the next two games, the Rockets are going to the NBA Finals. It would help if he could get some calls. The Warriors seem to get the questionable calls, but Harden did not. If he does...

3) Again, Chris Paul: Paul had a rough first half, but for the second game in a row, he was the best player on the Rockets in the second half. After scoring two in the first, he had 18 in the second. The past two games show why the Rockets went all-in to get him. The biggest concern was Paul limped off in the fourth with an apparent hamstring injury. Without him they have no chance.

4) How good is Kevin Durant? He did not have his best shooting game, but without him the Warriors would have been toast. Considering the Warriors got 20-plus point games from Durant (29), Steph Curry (22) and Klay Thompson (23) and still lost says something about the Rockets. Thompson was especially good, shooting 8-of-14. But everything was difficult and contested, and the Warriors could not get it done.

5) The X-factor: Eric Gordon had a team-high 24, but he did it on just 6 of 15 shooting, 3 of 10 on 3s. He did most of his damage at the line, going 9 of 10. Without him, however, the Rockets do not win this. 

The bottom line: The Rockets need one win to go to the Finals. If you look at pure stats, they should not have won this game. But they gutted it out, played great defense, looked the Warriors in the eye and made them blink. They showed heart. If Paul can't play going forward, they are in trouble. But at some point, doesn't the MVP show up? We shall see. Thursday's win was huge.

 

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Wednesday's already back again and that means it's time for another recap for all things Rockets.

Westbrook reunion

It was about a week ago that I suggested the Rockets' chances of grabbing Russell Westbrook were slim to none, and then about a day later I was eating crow. Now that the dust has settled there are still plenty of questions still but a few things have been cleared up.

It looks as though the Rockets intend to employ the same staggered approach with regard to James Harden and Westbrook's minutes. The strategy allows both players plenty of on ball time and keeps the pressure on an opponent's starters and bench. It's a highly effective regular season tactic, but it will be imperative to their playoff success to give the two stars ample opportunities to learn how to share the court. This is important because Harden rarely leaves the court in the postseason.

That's where the questions arise. Are Russ and Harden a good fit? Could the stage be set for massive implosion due to conflicting play styles, or will the two stars adapt and acquiesce to one another when need be? Can D'Antoni find a way to scheme around Westbrook's inefficient outside shot? More importantly, who will come better dressed night in and night out. Harden and Westbrook may be in the running for best on-court duo on the league, but they are hands down the most fashion-forward.

Tyson Chandler signs

Shortly after news of the Westbrook deal broke, veteran center Tyson Chandler signed a one year deal. A former defensive player of the year, Chandler has obviously lost a step but still provides valuable depth behind Clint Capela. Capela has been prone to injuries throughout his young career, and last season his absence was felt with Nene and Isaiah Hartenstein left to carry the load.

Iggy rumors remain

Since the acquisition of Westbrook, it has been rumored that the Rockets are focused on acquiring longtime target Andre Igoudala via trade with Memphis. Igoudala was aggressively pursued by the Rockets in free agency in 2017, but at the last minute chose to remain with the Golden State Warriors. The current hangup between the two sides revolves around Houston's reluctance to dive further into the luxury tax to take on what could be a one-year rental.

The Rockets may seem silly for prioritizing the acquisition of a 35 year old player who averaged 5.7 ppg last season, but make no mistake. This isn't a move for the regular season, and it's not for a starting spot. Igoudala's presence on the Rockets would serve as an almost identical role as the one Carlos Beltran provided to the Astros in 2017: a mentor who can still play. Even more so, he remains a defensive pest and is as clutch as they come.

Parting shot

The Rockets finished their summer league schedule with a 3-2 record, but may have found a diamond in the rough. Keep an eye on Chris Clemons, who was white-hot throughout. Clemons averaged 20.8 points per game to go with 5 3-pointers per game. It's possible he could be called up as a spark off the bench, but at 5'9" he'll have a difficult time proving that he isn't a defensive liability.

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