HOUSTON - The Houston Rockets are one win away from the NBA Finals. But they won't have the services of Chris Paul, at least during their first attempt to get there.
While Houston was jubilant in the wake of a 98-94 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of this best-of-seven series, the celebrations inside Houston's locker room were muted after Paul suffered a right hamstring injury in the game's final minute. Friday morning, the Rockets announced that Paul will miss Saturday's game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain. He will be re-evaluated when the Rockets return to Houston, according to the team. Houston leads the series, 3-2.
"I hope he's healthy," Trevor Ariza said Thursday night, before the Rockets had ruled Paul out. "I hope he gets better and, if not, somebody else has to step up and do what we've been doing all year, step in and try to help this team win."
The injury was so bad that immediately after Paul suffered it after taking a shot in the lane that missed, he remained on the ground as Golden State stormed back the other way on a 5-on-4 advantage. Houston got bailed out, however, when Quinn Cook - who didn't exactly look confident in such a big moment - missed a wide open 3-pointer on the right wing while Paul stood and watched helplessly from 50 feet away.
Paul eventually checked out of the game with 22.7 seconds remaining, watching the game in a slumped position on the bench and only getting up once to huddle with his teammates during a stoppage in play.
When Houston won the game, Paul limped - very slowly - back to Houston's locker room, where he didn't speak to reporters after the game because he was receiving getting treatment.
"Was he hurt?" Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni joked after the game. "I didn't see that.
D'Antoni said trainers and doctors would "do whatever they can do" for Paul, and that if he's unavailable, it will be "time for somebody else to step up.
"We've got plenty of guys over there that will have some fresh legs, that's for sure," the coach said. "So we'll be all right."
Whether D'Antoni is actually right about that remains to be seen. Houston was already operating on a thin margin; the Rockets have essentially employed a six-man rotation the past two games, with Gerald Green getting about 15 minutes as the seventh man.
Paul carried Houston in the second half of Game 5, scoring 18 of his 20 points. James Harden, meanwhile, has missed 20 consecutive 3-point attempts since the second quarter of Game 4, and went 5-for-21 in Game 5 overall. He's known for declining as a series goes on; now he may have to carry the entire load for the Rockets.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Oakland; a Game 7, if necessary, would be Monday night back in Houston.