Culture / Sporting Life

Chris Paul’s Hamstring Heartbreak, J.J. Watt and Justin Timberlake’s Happy Dance and Travis Scott’s TNT Block

Rockets’ Wild Game 5 Win Brings Instant Joy and Future Dread

BY // 05.25.18

Travis Scott is standing up, even though the Houston rap icon’s in the first row, so Reggie Miller needs to stand up too. The TNT analyst wants a good view of Rockets-Warriors which is turning into one of those rare NBA playoff series that’s talked about for years. The rest of the Toyota Center is just going bonkers. It’s beyond loud, loud enough to make Bill Simmons’ ears bleed.

Then Draymond Green dribbles the ball off his leg, sending the reigning world champs’ last chance skidding away like a Ferrari that’s blown a tire — and bonkers goes next level.

Amid all the well-earned delirium, amid J.J. Watt and Justin Timberlake hugging and dancing and giggling together like school kids on celebrity row, amid the thousands of scenes of joy, it’s easy to forget the man who dragged the Houston Rockets here. For a moment.

But Chris Paul still looms over this series. You could even say the Rockets are hanging by his hamstring.

No current player in the NBA deserves to win a championship more than Chris Paul. One of the very best players in the league for years, stuck on teams that weren’t quite good enough to seriously challenge for a title, Paul always brought it, night after night, season after season. Now, he’s playing like he knows this Rockets team is his last, best chance.

No one seizes this Game 5 quite like Paul. But with the Rockets 98, Warriors 94 final locked on the scoreboard, with Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blaring over the arena loudspeakers, he is nowhere to be found. He limped off in the final minute of this Rockets franchise’s biggest win in 23 years.

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And what a cruel, sad twist it would be if Paul cannot play at anything close to his best in the rest of this series. The Rockets are up 3-2 in this epic Western Conference Finals, guaranteed at worst a Game 7 at home. But they may be down to one star. Paul has already been ruled out of Saturday night’s Game 6 in Oakland. He will no doubt try to play if there is a winner-take-all Game 7 in Houston Monday night, but how effective the injury will let him play is another matter.

Paul ends up leaving Toyota Center without talking to reporters on what should be one of the best nights of his life. He slips away in a Maybach, gliding away into the night and toward some extremely uncertain days ahead.

The Rockets never win this game without Paul dialing up some magic from the heavens. Or at least, the rafters. He hits three no-way 3-pointers in the third quarter, each seemingly more impossible than the last. Two are complete rainbow threes, the last is right over Warriors star Stephen Curry who seems almost welded to Paul on defense.

No matter. The high-arching shot still drops right in the hoop. Paul is doing to Curry what Curry has done to so many defenseless players over the last four years. He even breaks into the Golden State star’s signature shimmy celebration after the last three.

“It was well deserved,” Curry says of Paul’s copycat shimmy in his postgame press conference. “That was a tough shot. If you’re going to shimmy, you have to be all right getting shimmed on.”

Paul didn’t have any room on the shot. He really had no right to make the shot. It seemed to have no hope. But he almost seemed to somehow will it in. He scores 18 of his 20 points in the second half, refuses to let the Rockets buckle several times.

“What he did was remarkable,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni says. “When we were kind of teetering, he made two or three threes. That’s just his heart. They weren’t great shots. They were nothing. He made something out of nothing.

“His heart, his will to win… I don’t know how many times everybody’s got to see it in the league. He’s one of the best players to have played the game.”

Thirteen years into his career, Paul’s moment finally appears to be here. Only now he’s limping toward it.

Chris Paul’s Basketball Heartbreak

No one said fate was fair. Paul knows this better than most. Blessed with so much, he also holds a PhD in basketball heartbreak. It dates all the way back to 2005 when Paul’s heavily favored Wake Forest team lost a double overtime heartbreaker to West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, ending his college basketball career.

It’s happened again and again during Paul’s time with the Clippers too. But for Paul to not be healthy enough to help finish off these historically great Warriors of Curry and Kevin Durant would be the most devastating blow of all.

Chris Paul pushed the Rockets into these Western Conference Finals with an incredible shooting performance that closed out the Utah Jazz. He’s pushed the Warriors to the brink, done what many didn’t think was even possible.

But what if he can’t push anymore? It’d be a cruel, sad fate, one that would rob basketball fans right along with Paul. This series is too good to not be decided with both teams at their best.

“Well, his spirits aren’t great,” D’Antoni says of Paul in the aftermath of Game 5. “For sure he’s worried and all that.”

Hanging by a hamstring.

Even as the song went on, as Rockets fans remained still standing at their seats, in no rush to leave this happy place, Paul’s premature limp off the court loomed large. A young woman from Norway told anyone who’d listen, “I’m so glad this is my first basketball game.”

Chris Paul just hopes it’s not his last one where he feels anything close to right. On the verge… and hanging by a hamstring. NBA life is fickle indeed.

Even J.J. Watt and Justin Timberlake cannot dance that away.

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