Three Game 6s, who is going on to Game 7?

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Game 6 — it means somebody will be punching their ticket to the next round, but others are headed to a win-or-go-home Game 7.

We’ve got three Game 6s tonight, a couple we didn’t expect to see. Who is going to push it to a Game 7? Here is a look at each of the games.

Atlanta at Boston (Celtics lead 3-2): This series changed when Al Horford returned — if he had been healthy (or healthy enough) all series things would have been different. But now with him back the Hawks are trying to win three straight against the veteran Celtics, and this one is back home in the Boston Garden where the Celtics play better. Paul Pierce has a banged up left knee but is a go and he needs to be the attacking Paul and not jump shooting Paul — he has to draw fouls and get to the line — if the Celtics are going to close it out.

Boston is just one throwback game from Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen from advancing as well. But they have to get points inside, not just as jump shooters. And they need to find a way to slow Horford, especially at the end of games. But you just kind of expect this is where the Celtics veterans step up and end it.

Chicago at Philadelphia (Sixers lead 3-2): After Derrick Rose went down in Game 1 we expected a hangover for the Bulls, we just didn’t expect it to last three games. Finally Tom Thibodeau seemed to snap them out of it in Game 5 and the Bulls defense was back shutting down the Sixers, seemingly contesting every shot. That was enough to get them the win, but now the Bulls have to do it with a slowed Taj Gibson (ankle) and likely without Joakim Noah (game timed decision).

The Sixers need to treat this like Game 7 because they do not want to go back to Chicago. The Sixers need to attack, not just settle for jump shots, and they need to get Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams going. Coach Doug Collins said he the goal is to generate offense from their defense — get stops and run. Still, you know the Bulls will play good defense — the question is can they find enough offense, Chicago needs good games from Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer or they will be on vacation far earlier than anyone expected.

Los Angeles at Denver (Lakers lead 3-2): Do you have any idea what Lakers team will show up tonight? Which Andrew Bynum? Do you have any idea what JaVale McGee will show up? Me neither. Plus, Kobe Bryant is a game-time decision with a stomach virus (although it’s Kobe, so you know he will play, he just may not be 100 percent). If you are in Las Vegas, stay away from this one.

The real thing to watch in this game is the Lakers outside shooters. Last game Denver collapsed and doubled on the Lakers bigs just daring somebody, anybody to beat them from the outside. No Laker could. If the Lakers make those shots they change the Nuggets defense, if they miss it’s long rebounds to get the Nuggets running.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.