Chris Paul runs out of tricks and revenge: Houston, to semis

The point guard made a party, but Houston backed into an insane finish. After a tremendous series, the Thunder were left without magic and Paul, without revenge.


The Rockets have one life left. This is how the survival of the Texan project is measured now, put to the test this year more than any and with the most uncertain future they have had in almost a decade. Those are the years, eight exactly, that James Harden has been with the mythical franchise, winner in the 90s of two rings for history but without being able to repeat such a feat when a quarter of a century of the last of those championships has already been completed. From Olajuwon to Harden, the leader of yesterday and today, there is also a secular leap that can be measured simply by the support each receives from the fans, but it is undeniable that La Barba is one of the most impressive scorers ever and that their milestones will be burned in an NBA that does not wait for anyone or has waited for a team that could get the ring but stayed by the wayside.

For the moment, they have avoided the ignominious situation of falling in the first round with that shameless version of the ultra small ball that they have become, with D'Antoni, a coach whose future in the team is unlikely, taking to the extreme a style that them he has given little in the playoffs because of the eternal absence of a plan b that neither exists nor is expected. Of course, the defense of the five little ones, far from being based on the same doctrines that Jeff Bzdelik raised (this year in Pelicans that have defended rather little), has worked enough to keep the franchise afloat. At least one more tie, and with James Harden, eternally criticized for his skills and defensive attitudes, placing a key stopper with just under a minute to go that practically sentenced a game that lasted a lot in the last seconds but did not have variations in light.

Harden had a disastrous game in attack ("a shit", as he himself said at the conclusion), with 17 points and 1 of 9 in triples, but he appeared when he had to do it in defense and survived a tough team, warrior and who has fought until the last second of the seventh game before falling, after a badly managed timeout and a robbery by Tucker that certified the victory. An end that was slow to arrive due to numerous referee stops, controversy and eternal failures that caused the defense to predominate in the end. There, the Rockets benefited, with a Harden who celebrated the stopper to Dort (30 points, the rookie not drafted with the highest score in a seventh game of all time) as if it were a victory. And the Thunder still had time to win the game, but they found no single man and the series ended in a strange, but peremptory way. That final play ended in loss, the last of the 22 that OKC had, which shot better from the field (46.1%) and triples (47.1%) than its rivals (39.8% and 34.7 %) but lost 10 more balls than them.

And Chris Paul ran out of tricks and out of revenge

It may be the best summary of the seventh game. Paul's performance was sublime, he set an excellent triple-double (19 + 11 + 12), helped in defense and was in everything, but the wall that the Rockets raised in the final moments left him without scoring in the last seven minutes of game and caused him to lose six balls. Too much for a team that needs you like eating at clutch time, where wrists tremble and easy seems difficult. Schröder (12 + 6 + 5), Gilgeous-Alexander (19) or Adams (10 + 9) were active, always on the lookout, just like the Thunder who were behind but knew how to manage the times and wait for the end of the crash, being aware that if they raised a few even last minutes they could have everything in their favor. At the end of the day they were the best team in the League in that type of finals, having the best player of the season (Paul) for them.

This time it was not. Chris Paul has not been able to see his revenge fulfilled a year after leaving the Rockets' back door, arguing with Harden and Morey's unfulfilled promise in front, and he remains 35 years old and having played a Western final in his entire career Too poor a résumé for a man of such quality. The Thunder have a future (and an infinite number of draft rounds), but the point guard has been in the League for 15 seasons and is losing his mind despite a season in which he has returned to being All Star (tenth in his career), He has served as a mentor and has shown, even if he did not win the series, that the Rockets were wrong in a questioned decision and that he will be tested with a contender in the semifinals. And it is there, before the aspirants (or favorites) against whom the one-dimensional ones have always collided (by plan, not by talent) Rockets.

And what was given for the Thunder in a good year to give surprises due to the situation in the NBA (and the world) but in which they have remained at the first change, although giving a lot of war. The future is propitious for them beyond a Paul who has vindicated himself but who has less and less left in the best league in the world and the possibilities are eternal with a didactic coach who has young players in his hands with progression who have come to stay and they have barely allowed transition between the departure of Westbrook and his cult of personality and the new project devised by Sam Presti, one of the best managers in the competition (or the best). The Rockets advance to the round they stayed in last year and will face some Lakers who will have their first acid test against them, with LeBron James (and all that that implies) leading the way. And Chris Paul sees another year end in a way he did not expect and is left without tricks or revenge, but with an eternally postponed and almost definitive claim. After all, it seems that some have realized how good this year is. A season later, things end in a similar way for the point guard, who is left without the aftertaste of victory against those who betrayed him but has shown his usual feelings by leaving without saying hello to Harden or Westbrook. Just missing

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