When Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Golden State Warriors, they ran through much of the NBA with ease. Even LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers could not contain them as they won just one game in their two NBA Finals matchups against the Warriors.
While most teams were no contest for Golden State there was one squad that pushed them to the brink. That was James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets.
Nobody came closer to dethroning the Warriors super team than the Rockets did in 2018. The Rockets were up 3-2 in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, but it came at a great cost as Paul injured his hamstring at the end of Game 5. The Rockets did not win again after Paul’s injury as the Warriors won the series in 7 games and ultimately went on to win their second straight NBA title.
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Chris Paul Explains Why He Couldn’t Win With James Harden
The Rockets had another crack at the Warriors in 2019 and despite Durant being injured in Game 5 of the series lost to the Warriors again in 6 games. That offseason the Rockets traded Paul to the Thunder in exchange for Russell Westbrook. Paul and Harden never won a ring together like many expected them to. The Suns star attributes much of that to the fact that he was unable to stay healthy in Houston.
“The thing that frustrated me the most was that first year, I wasn’t healthy. It’s crazy. Them years in Houston are kinda a blur, to a certain extent, because there was so much going on at the time. But dang, we was good. We was real good,” Paul said during a recent appearance on the No Chill Podcast with Gilbert Arenas per Clutch Points.
“Can’t nobody score the ball like he can. It’s crazy man — I wouldn’t trade any experience or whatnot, but I wish we would have had more of those conversations.”
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Gilbert Arenas Says Rockets’ Failures Were a Coaching Issue
Harden by and large was the Rockets’ best player as he led the NBA in points per game in each of his last three seasons in Houston. However, the downside of Harden carrying such a heavy workload on offense during the regular season, was that he would often flame out in the playoffs especially during crunch time.
Arenas believes that the reason Harden and Paul never worked out is that they never had an understanding of each other’s roles which ultimately falls on the coach.
“I remember when you were over in Houston and I said, ‘The only way they make it out is if James actually understands his gift and your gift.’ As a coach, you have to have that hard talk,” Arenas said to Paul. “And the hard talk is this, ‘James, up until the fourth quarter, last five minutes, it’s your game. The last five minutes, the ball is in CP’s hands.’”
The Rockets were never the same after trading Paul and just one season after acquiring Westbrook he was traded to the Washington Wizards for John Wall. Soon after Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets which ultimately led to the end of the Rockets being championship contenders.
Paul reached the NBA Finals for the first time in his career last season with the Suns but fell just short of the title. If he gets back to the big stage in 2022, he could be going toe to toe with his former Rockets co-star for all the marbles.