Chris Paul was in the driver's seat for this iteration of Rockets-Warriors but—despite big games from Gerald Green and Eric Gordon—he and the Rockets couldn't beat the Warriors.
Christmas 2014. That was the last time a truly Chris Paul-led team beat the Warriors. Sure, Paul played in the Rockets’ opening night win over the Dubs this season, but he played second fiddle to James Harden that night—and didn’t play at all down the stretch due to injury. Otherwise, it’s been three years and 11 days since Paul put his personal stamp on a victory over Golden State. CP3 had a chance—with Harden out—to exorcise some demons Thursday night. Instead, the Warriors—without Kevin Durant—picked up a 124–114 win to even the season series.
Thursday, like opening night, will go a short way in determining how these two juggernaut offenses will match up in a potential playoff series. Game 1 featured a Rockets team still figuring out its identity. Game 2 was missing too many important players. But a Houston win Thursday would have been a nice psychological edge for Paul, whose Clippers teams were often humiliated by the Warriors, who have always seemed particularly hell-bent on beating Paul’s teams.
For a while Thursday, it looked like Paul would finally get the monkey off his back. He scored 28 points, hitting five threes, while dishing out nine assists in somewhat of a Diet Harden performance. Paul was greatly aided by Eric Gordon (30 points) and Gerald Green (29 points) who shot a combined 21-of-40 from the field. Green was particularly electric, and his out-of-nowhere barrage is usually the kind of wild card needed to beat the Warriors.
But the Rockets’ weak spots were too easily exploited by Golden State. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza were too cold on offense to overcome some defensive deficiencies, and in the second half Houston’s bench struggled just enough with Paul on the bench that the starters had to play too much catch-up down the stretch. Stephen Curry continued his back-from-ankle-injury onslaught, seemingly breezing his way to 29 points, while Klay Thompson scored 31 of his own, shooting a scorching 70% from three.
If there’s anything to take away from this game, it’s that no matter who is on the court for these teams, there will not be a shortage of points. The Rockets and Warriors arrive at baskets often in different ways—Houston running constant pick-and-rolls and guards taking advantage of switches, Golden State tirelessly moving off-the-ball until the defense wilts—but both arrive at buckets nonetheless. The Dubs’ defense was certainly better in the decisive minutes, and Houston will need to find a way to tighten up on that end come playoff time. (The return of Luc Mbah a Moute could help a bit there.)
Ultimately, it’s best not to read too much into Thursday’s tilt. With Harden and Durant on the floor, and both these teams operating with a full season under their belts, the Rockets and Warriors will be playing on a different level if they actually meet in the playoffs. It certainly would have been nice for Paul, who had to hear an earful from Draymond Green down the stretch, to show Golden State it won’t have his number forever. Like most teams chasing the Warriors, however, redemption for Paul (and the Rockets) will have to wait.