◼️ Chris Paul’s record in the playoffs is replete with painful defeats. The same goes for James Harden. And coach Mike D’Antoni overcomes the disappointments accumulated by his two stars.
In separate ways, none has been consecrated in the playoffs. Together, their luck could change. They are responsible for the Houston Rockets facing the postseason with the best record in the NBA, in a league in which Golden State and Cleveland have dominated in recent years, and it would not be a surprise that the triumvirate Paul-Harden-D ‘ Antoni conquer the championship in June.
At the start of the last week of the campaign, the Rockets set a franchise record with 64 victories and secured first place in the Western Conference.
But this group – perhaps inspired by their previous playoff fights – knows they have a long way to go. The Rockets have not been crowned since 1995.
“The ultimate goal is to lift that trophy”, said Harden. “Until we can achieve it, we’re not going to celebrate anything. … we have not won anything yet. “
D’Antoni, who turns 67 next month and would be the oldest coach to win an NBA title if Houston is proclaimed champion, has revived his career in Houston. He led the Rockets to the Western semifinals in his first year last season. On the eve of these playoffs, D’Antoni insists that he will not spend a single second weighing on everything that went wrong in his previous postseason.
“Zero“, he replied when asked how much he muses about his playoff failures.
In 2004-05, their Phoenix Suns won 62 games in the regular season and reached the conference final before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in five games. The Suns repeated in the conference final the following year, but were eliminated by Dallas in six games. They succumbed in the first round in 2007, and then in the first in 2008.
He suffered more disappointments when he led the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers.
New York was swept by Boston in 2011, and Los Angeles by the Spurs in 2013, both in the first round. Prior to last season, D’Antoni had not won a postseason victory for nine years.
“We had a fabulous regular season, but it doesn’t matter anymore”, he said.
Paul’s failures may be the most scrutinized. The nine-time All-Star, who came to Houston in a trade during the summer, has nine playoff appearances and has never been able to get past the second round. The most painful of all those fiascos was in 2015, ironically against Houston, when Paul and the Clippers squandered a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinal. They were thrashed in the fifth game, they let a 19-point difference slip in the second half in Los Angeles in the sixth game and finally fell in seventh in Houston.
That has been in the past, says Paul.
“We are trying to enjoy the moment … without worrying about all those things”, he said. “Maybe when everything is over, then you can reflect.”
Harden has also had his troubles. His splendid 2016-17 season promised, especially after Houston crushed San Antonio as a visitor in the first match of the Western semifinal. But San Antonio won four of the following five, including a beating 114-75 to sentence the series in Houston, with Harden neutralized to just 10 points.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t win alone”, Harden said. “You need the contributions of others, put the important shots, execute key plays, and now we have people who can make a difference on any night.”