As the Western Conference finals shifts back to Oakland, the state of Chris Paul's hamstring hangs over the series. Paul has left an indelible mark on the series, starring in both of Houston's Game 4 and Game 5 wins. Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver break down the injury's potential impact on the marquee matchup.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: Can we talk about—we have two more things we need to hit from this series and [Game 5]. Chris f**ing Paul. We forgot to even mention him when we were talking earlier this week about Warriors-Rockets and you issued your challenge to James Harden and he's kind of flunked the challenge. I don't know.
Ben Golliver: Andrew.
Sharp: Just saying all right.
Golliver: He played a very solid Game 4. He was solid.
Sharp: Not exactly MVP-level basketball from him but Chirs Paul ...
Golliver: I just hope those Rockets fans are taking notes on what you say, OK?
Sharp: That was an exhaustive list from my man Sam, all right? And God knows I deserve it. But Chris Paul needs a mention. He struggled in the first three games and then came back and was spectacular in Game 4 and took a lot of brewing criticism of him and skepticism over his future. And then in the second half [Thursday] man, I talk about Houston having a response every time it felt like the Warriors were going to take over. And almost every time it was Chris Paul with the response. I don't want to get too excited as a longtime CP3 stan but A.) We need to make sure he's healthy for the rest of the series and B.) If he finishes this series, it will be one of my favorite stories of all time. I don't want to jinx anything but strictly [Thursday night] and strictly this series, he is just such a tough crazy bastard and I love him for it.
Golliver: Yeah, there's so many different things you could say about Chris. I mean, first of all, how many big shots did he hit in Game 4? I mean between him and Eric Gordon, these guys are just hitting ...
Sharp: Over and over.
Golliver: ... big shot after big shot. But in Game 5, the thing that stood out to me, I mean his shooting numbers weren't that great. I mean he hit the crazy threes that we were talking about earlier. But what stood out to me and I think we underrated this, Andrew, coming into the series, when you're talking about their isolation style there is a serious degree of mental fatigue defensively when you have to go against these guys over and over again. And Chris Paul and James Harden have thousands of reps in this all season long. They've seen every defense, they've learned every counter, they love to play one-on-one and they're really good at it.
Those situations are really tiring for them and we did discuss that but we forgot to talk about how tiring it is for those individual defenders who are out there on the island with them. And I think they sort of wore Golden State's defenders down in that sense a little bit because think of how paranoid you would be on an island with Chris Paul. All eyes on you, you're trying not to foul him and you know he knows every trick in the book. You're trying to contest on three-pointers and you don't want to give him any daylight because he can hit that shot. You know he can do a one-dribble pull-up. You know he can get all the way to the basket. You know he can go either direction.
I mean those are a lot of decisions that Golden State's defenders have had to make and I thought Golden State overall played really good defensively but the margin here is, given the way the last two games have played out, very narrow. I mean you can get an A- game defensively and it not be enough and I think that's sort of what happened to Golden State in Game 5.
But looking ahead for Chris Paul, the way that he clutched that hamstring really had me nervous because he knew it immediately and he's dealt with that hamstring injury in the past, it's kept him out for extended periods of time. ... I think if I was Houston I would save him for Game 7 and I would try to do a Willis Reed-type situation because Golden State is going to be really angry coming out in Oracle at home and I can completely see a situation, I think the line is already set at 10 or 11 points, I could see that being a blowout given the quick turnaround for Golden State.
If I were Houston, I just try to give Chris Paul the maximum, whatever three days of rest he can get and hope that he can give you that emotional lift. Because having that sort of hamstring injury in this series is death because you're moving around so much. You're switching so much. You're covering so much ground and you're doing it against high-level players and there's nowhere to hide him really. And I think the potential for re-aggravation if you bring him out in Game 6 and then you don't have him for Game 7, to me it wouldn't be worth it.
Sharp: ... I had the same reaction watching from home. In that moment, if he weren't seriously injured, there's no way he doesn't find a way to tough it out and finish the game.
Sharp: So it's not great. That definitely would concern me if I was a Houston fan. The last thing on this series though. What do you think? I know you're probably going to stay wedded to your Warriors ... well you can't because you had Warriors in six. How do you think this ends?
Golliver: I think the Chris Paul injury will, unfortunately, slant this series and Golden State is going to win in seven. I don't feel great about making that selection, after all I'm H-Town's adopted son. I want to say this about Chris Paul. It's one thought I had and it's a bit dark so forgive me. I was there when he hit the game-winner against the Spurs in the first round a couple years ago. It was a fantastic moment and he sort of grinded through injuries and pain to hit that shot and it was sort of that finally moment. He's done it. He's broken through and delivered in the clutch and then everyone remembers what happens in the next series. They go down and it's sort of like this microcosm of Chris Paul's life. Any time something happens in the NBA good for him, the opposite immediately happens. And I had that same sort of dark feeling in this game where he's played two of the most impressive games, in terms of the stage, in his entire career right? Games 4 and 5?
Sharp: Well look, you weren't lying man. This is dark but I'll let you continue.
Golliver: I'm almost done. But to have the hamstring injury flare up in that moment. I really hope that doesn't end up being the microcosm moment of Chris Paul's career where like just as he's there to celebrate he just kind of gets struck down by a flukey injury that's unfortunately marred some of his previous postseason runs. I'll put it this way, there's no way he's going to sit out both Game 6 and 7. As you mentioned, he's a competitor and he wanted to be out there for the final moments of Game 5. Like you're cautious in that situation but you're not so cautious that you're just going to let him sit out the rest of this series. He might not be able to move, he might only be able to play a few minutes in Game 7 but he's going to be on the court at some point.
Sharp: I agree with you. Chris Paul is a psychopath and he'll make it out there somehow.