HOUSTON — In the Western Conference finals last season, the Houston Rockets had home-court advantage and took a 3-2 lead over the Golden State Warriors before Houston star Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury that kept him out for the rest of the series.
As these teams prepare for Game 6 of the conference semifinals on Friday night (Saturday, Manila time), the Warriors find themselves in almost the same situation Houston was in last year.
The Warriors are just a win away from advancing to the conference finals for the fifth straight time, but will have to do it without NBA-playoffs leading scorer Kevin Durant, who will miss the rest of the series with a strained right calf.
The two-time defending champions took advantage of Paul’s injury in 2018 to win two straight after falling behind 3-2 and eliminated the Rockets on their home court to advance.
The Rockets don’t want to see Golden State celebrate a series victory on their home court again and are determined to bounce back after Wednesday night’s loss to avoid being eliminated by the Warriors for the fourth time in five seasons.
“I am a competitor and this team is competitive, we have to go down and win,” Houston’s Eric Gordon said. “We know the situation and we have to go back home and win and that is going to be our mentality. We’ve always done well at home and we just have to keep it that way.”
The Rockets are 5-0 at home this postseason and went 31-10 at the Toyota Center in the regular season.
As the Warriors look to move on without Durant and the more than 34 points a game he’s averaged this postseason, they know no one player can make up for his absence in this series where each game has been close.
“The series has been a battle,” Klay Thompson said. “Each game, such little margin for error. We know we’re going to have to be near perfect to go down to the Houston without Kevin and win a game. It’s going to be hard.”
The Warriors will need Thompson to build on what he did in Game 5 after he shook off a couple of tough games to make 5 of 10 3-pointers and lead the team with 27 points.
“I’m never going to waver with my confidence when it comes to shooting ... but it’s the playoffs,” he said. “There are going to be plenty of ups and downs. We’ve done this so many times. We’re not going to lose confidence over a couple bad shooting nights. That’s the way the basketball gods can be. Last week just wasn’t my best games. Hopefully I can rebound with a great one on Friday.”
If the Rockets hope to force the series back to Oakland for Game 7 on Sunday night, reigning MVP James Harden will have to be more aggressive after scoring just five points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss.
But Harden believes good defense will be the key to keeping this series going.
“Defensively is how you win the series,” he said. “It’s plain and simple. You can’t ... nitpick, overanalyze the game. You got to get stops in order to put yourself in a position to win. It’s pretty simple.”
Some things to know about Game 6.
PRESSURE IS ON: Curry’s Shot. Stephen Curry is still trying to find a shooting rhythm and it hasn’t been fun for the two-time MVP. Not that he’s lost any confidence in letting it fly — from anywhere. Without Durant, his scoring contributions become even more important. Curry had another rough shooting night in Game 5, going 9 for 23 and 3 of 11 on 3s to still finish with 25 points.
“I thought I was aggressive the whole game. I just missed shots,” he said. “Again, that’s going to happen. Right before KD got hurt I missed a layup right at the rim, a wide-open three in transition. That was, like, the lowest point of the game for me in terms of just searching. But when he went out, got the ball in your hands, initiate the offense, shots went in. Again, it’s all about not losing confidence in yourself, just find a way to find any type of life on the offensive end.”
INJURY WATCH: Durant didn’t make the trip to Houston, remaining in the Bay Area to receive treatment for his injury. The Warriors said he’ll be re-evaluated next week.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Rebounds. Through the first five games, the team which has led in rebounds has won the game. Offensive rebounds have been particularly important with P.J. Tucker’s work in that area in Games 3 and 4 helping Houston close out both games. Tucker has had at least 10 rebounds in the last four games.
PRESSURE IS ON: Paul. The Rockets need Paul to step up after the nine-time All-Star struggled in Game 5. Paul managed a playoff-low 11 points on 3 of 14 shooting and went 0 for 6 on 3-pointers. He said Houston can’t worry about its missed opportunity on Wednesday night and must look forward.
“We just got to be better,” he said. “We got to rebound. Let this one go ... it’s over and done with. We can’t get it back. We got to go back home and take care of Game 6.”