The Houston Rockets were built to challenge the Golden State Warriors
The game plan was brilliant. We were stacked with perimeter defenders who switched on the drop of a dime with relentless aggression. One strong rim protector in the middle, who, for that one magnificent year, could even survive a switch when he needed to. We were going to shoot more threes, but just as importantly, we were going to defend threes better than anyone else could. Sure, the Warriors had four stars and we only had two but philosophically the concept was sound: by designing a team to beat the best team, you become the best team.
With the Rockets up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals against arguably (if not inarguably) the most talented basketball team ever assembled, it was working. We were the best team in basketball.
Then came the infamous hamstring. Chris Paul’s mind never failed us. It’s never failed him and I doubt it’s ever failed anyone.
His body failed everyone. Save for the Golden State Warriors, their small core of loyal fans, and a critical mass of ring chasing bandwagoners.
If that was petty, call it an appropriate homage to CP3.
Even in a retrospective of the Harden era, it’s impossible to overstate Paul’s importance to the Rockets over the two short years he played in Houston. The Harden/MDA strategy was the epitome of high risk/high reward. The gamble was that, over time, the reward would outweigh the risk. Often enough, it did. When it didn’t, Paul was the safety valve. The Rockets pushed their spread-pick-and-roll, absurd 3-point volume, and analytics-driven style to its brink. Whenever it failed, there was Paul to take over and implement one of the purest, most fundamentally sound pick-and-roll offenses in basketball.