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GSoM Roundtable - Western Conference Finals post-mortem part 2: What if Chris Paul never got hurt?

The GSoM crew debriefs the Western Conference Finals and weighs in on key moments of the series. Part two of our roundtable.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In Part 2 of our roundtable, we take a closer look at a key turning point of the 2018 Western Conference Finals — Chris Paul’s injury — and take a glimpse into the future for the Rockets. Check out Part 1 for more of our thoughts on the roller coaster series between the Rockets and Warriors.

Let’s assume Chris Paul never gets hurt in game 5. How does this series play out?

Charlie S: Given how Paul was playing, I think the Rockets probably win in 7. That said, the Warriors are still the Warriors. There are a lot of shots taken in Game 7 that would have never happened had Paul played.

Nate P.: I agree with Charlie: if Paul doesn’t get hurt in Game 5, I’m definitely thinking the Rockets could have won. However, while I totally acknowledge that that’s a legit question, I also think that if we’re going to talk in counterfactuals about injuries, then we have to look at it both ways: if Paul and Andre Iguodala don’t get injured, I think the Warriors still pull it out in 5. And apparently, Steve Kerr believes the same thing.

I don’t disagree that Paul’s injury was an issue, but the series ultimately became a battle of attrition… and in that scenario, what happened is that the Warriors were more easily able to withstand the injury they sustained than the Rockets could theirs. It’s terrible luck, it sucks because I think the series would’ve been substantially different with Paul, but the growing narrative that the Warriors won because the Rockets were injured just erases the fact of Iguodala being out longer and living in a post-fact universe is just not my thing.

Daniel: I refuse to answer this question if in this magical universe where Chris Paul’s body can all of a sudden take the pressures of post season basketball, Andre “Finals MVP and Olympian” Iguodala isn’t magically healthy as well. CP3 and James Harden were a combined 1 for 41 against Iguodala this series. So if we’re talking what ifs, we might as well get Iguodala a fresh knee.

Also, we beat Houston G1 and blew them out by forty-gotdamn-one points in G3 with CP3 on the floor. He’s a good player, but he ain’t scaring nobody with them lucky jumpers. NEXT QUESTION.

Charlie: Note, Daniel predicted a sweep.

Daniel: And the refs cheated us! (that’s what you’re supposed to say when your team fails, right?)

Tom: I think the series has the same result though it doesn’t look the same way it did. By which I mean the Warriors win in seven, but the way they win and why they win isn’t quite the same (if that makes sense).

I also think that we shouldn’t suppose that Paul’s injury was just a fluke but rather as an eventuality. I liked what Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote for The Athletic after Game 5, that the Warriors forced the burden onto Paul to try to wear him down. It might not have manifested itself as an injury but rather fatigue or ineffectiveness, but in this instance it was an injury. Thus I think seeing it as something random or not part of the narrative misreads things a bit.

Greg: This is going to become one of the biggest what if scenarios in years to come. Chris Paul was playing like his life was on the line in game five. All the momentum was with the Rockets. If Paul was 100%, I think the Warriors would have won game six but lost game seven in Houston. The Rockets missed 37 three pointers and only lost by a margin of nine points. Chris Paul makes the difference and likely cuts into those number of ill advised shots. By the end of game seven, the Rockets were completely gassed.

What if Draymond Green wasn’t suspended in Game 5? What if Nick Anderson hit those free throws? What if Chris Paul didn’t get hurt? What if the refs didn’t rig that game Lakers Kings Game 6? We will never know, but the NBA conspirators will always look back and ponder what would have happened.

The Rockets have a lot of moving parts in the offseason with Chris Paul (UFA), Clint Capela (RFA), Trevor Ariza (UFA), and a few others about to hit free agency. Do you think this team will be back and competing at the same level next year? Or was this team built for all or nothing this year?

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets
Lots of decisions to make this off season for the Rockets front office
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie S: I don’t see LeBron James going to Houston. So I see them bringing the band back together. Capela might be the biggest wildcard here. He’s going to get paid wherever he ends up.

Nate P: Well, this is where a general manager makes their money...and this is quite a conundrum for Morey. Harden is obviously in the middle of his prime right now, so they have to consider paying whatever is necessary to try again next year -- championship windows don’t open often and you have to maximize the opportunity when they do come around.

What makes this so tricky is Paul: coming off another injury, how much is he worth to a team that is still short of the Warriors? And what might the market price for his services be? I think those are extremely tough questions to ask and really come down to a fundamental principle of NBA economics: the team willing to pay the most money will set Harden’s market value. The question then becomes whether the Rockets want to continue to invest in him or free up cap room for someone else.

Daniel: I hope they bring this exact team back year. They’re quite beatable, and if they’re our top competition out West, we’ll be in the Finals for a fifth straight year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare some Cavaliers slander for the next week or so. GOOD DAY, SIR.

Charlie: Note, Daniel PREDICTED A SWEEP.

Tom: I think they have to run it back, though salary cap demands could dictate moving on from a couple players (I wonder how they’ll be able to bring Ariza back and yet maintain depth). I also wonder what kind of deal they give Paul, a great player and yet one racking up the NBA miles and with an injury history. But this was a great Rockets team that had an amazing regular season and pushed the Warriors to the brink while exceeding many of the expectations and assumptions I had about them. They have to run this back.

Greg: Daryl Morey is a smart GM, but he will need to have to figure out a way to keep Capela, Ariza, Paul, and dump Ryan Anderson. On top of that, they will need some more bench depth to make it through long series like this. With all that money committed to Harden, there are going to be some tough and possibly shocking decisions made this off-season in Houston.

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