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Gerald Green had long journey to Houston, Conference Finals

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HOUSTON (AP) β€” Gerald Green was at a crossroads.

Released by Milwaukee in training camp, the career journeyman couldn’t find another NBA team that wanted him.

He contemplated playing internationally and in the G League, but no one had any use for the over-30 player with almost a decade of NBA experience.

“I was honestly contemplating retirement,” he told The Associated Press. “A lot of people don’t know that, but I was done.”

So he contacted his agent to put an expiration date on his basketball career.

“I was like: ‘Look man, when Jan. 1, 2018, hits, if I’m unsigned, I’m putting out a big statement on my Instagram letting everybody know, thank you for the awesome career over all these years but I’m done,'” he said. “‘I ain’t going to play no more.'”

Just four days shy of his self-imposed deadline, Green received the call that would change everything: His hometown Houston Rockets wanted him.

“Basketball was the last thing on my mind until I got that call,” he said. “Then it’s kind of like … ‘Are you serious?'”

By then, the 32-year Green had already “mentally checked out” of basketball. He was spending his days doing work in real estate and teaming with rapper Trae Tha Truth to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

The Rockets took a chance on Green, and now he could make it pay off.

Green’s years as an underdog – along with his length and athleticism – could be just what Houston needs Wednesday night when the Rockets try to even up the Western Conference finals after losing Game 1 to the Golden State Warriors.

He knew when he joined the Rockets it was a shot at redemption – on many levels.

He was traded to Houston as a 22-year-old in 2008 but released a little more than two weeks later after appearing in just one game.

When Green came to the Rockets the first time, he acknowledges he had the wrong attitude. The young man who’d had a modest upbringing on the South side of Houston had money after being drafted in the first round in 2005, and was coming off a memorable performance in the dunk contest at the 2008 All-Star Game where he blew out a candle atop a cupcake that was balanced on the back of the rim before throwing down a two-handed slam.

“It was right place at the wrong time,” he said of his mini-stint with the Rockets. “I just wasn’t focused. I still wanted to go out and enjoy my success of getting to the NBA instead of me trying to enjoy the work process of getting better.”

In the years since, he bounced around with six other NBA teams and spent two years playing in Russia and China. When he returned to Houston, he knew from the first day that his second stint was going to be special.

“As soon as I walked in the door I felt like everybody had their arms open to me like: ‘We need a hug. Come on, man. We’ve been waiting on you,'” he said mimicking a hug with his long muscular arms.

And the feeling was certainly mutual.

“To know him is to love him,” Chris Paul said. “He’s one of those people that if you don’t like Gerald Green, you’re telling me a lot about yourself.”

It was a new feeling for Green, who said he felt like some of his previous teammates wondered why he was on the team and never fully embraced him.

“I get judged a lot,” he said. “Maybe because of the way I talk, the way I look, I’m real quick to say a lot of stuff that maybe people don’t understand because that’s just me. I’m not the type of person that’s scripted … but on this team since Day 1, I could say something (crazy) and they ain’t never judged me for that.”

Coach Mike D’Antoni had known of the lanky forward with a knack for 3-pointers for years, but wasn’t sure what to expect when Houston signed him off the street.

He didn’t have to wait long. The day after he signed he scored 18 points, and in his fourth game and Houston’s first of the season without James Harden, who was nursing a hamstring injury, Green put on a show. He scored 27 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers to help the Rockets to a win over Orlando. The next night he outdid himself, tying a career high with eight 3s and finishing with 29 points as Houston fell to Golden State.

Green, who played high school basketball in Houston, averaged more than 18 points in the seven games Harden was out.

He has continued to bring a spark off the bench, averaging 12.1 points in the regular season – his highest average since 2015. He credits his turnaround to the nurturing environment fostered by D’Antoni, who he calls a “confidence-giver.”

And despite his limited work, he’s become a fan favorite for his almost obsessive love for Houston.

Green arrives to almost every game in a jersey of one of Houston’s teams, and he has three tattoos that pay homage to the city. Running down the entire length of his left forearm is the word “Houston” in graffiti-style block letters. On the front of his left shoulder is ink replicating the sign for Interstate 45, a freeway that runs directly by where he was raised. The last one is a nod to the Houston Oilers, a baby blue oil derrick on the back of the same shoulder almost identical to the ones that once adorned their helmets.

But his representation of Houston doesn’t stop there. Each time he hits a 3-pointer, he contorts both of his hands into “H’s” and holds them high toward the crowd.

Says Harden: “He’s the most Houston person I know.”

Green thrilled fans earlier this season when he first got his hair braided into the “R” from the Rockets’ logo. Since then, he’s also sported braids that formed the star from the Houston Astros’ logo.

For the playoffs, he’s sticking with the Rockets’ logo and discussed his love of the city with the AP as hairstylist Sandra Finn spent almost 90 minutes creating the intricate design. He brags about never getting rid of his phone number with a Houston area code even as he moved around the world. Later he jokes that he might ask Finn to braid the city’s first area code “713” into his hair one day.

“Maybe I am biased, I don’t know, but hell I’d die for this damn city,” he said. “I really would, man. I love this city.”

 

Chris Paul shimmied on Stephen Curry, and Curry is okay with that

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In Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Stephen Curry was feeling it and broke out the shimmy after draining a step-back three over James Harden.

In Game 5 Thursday night, Chris Paul hit a ridiculous three over Curry and returned the shimmy favor.

How did Stephen Curry feel about that? As your mom used to say, if you’re going to dish it out you had better be able to take it.

First, can we just admit neither Curry nor CP3 can shimmy like Antoine Walker?

The question for Paul and Curry is which one will be shimmying after Game 6 (especially considering CP3’s hamstring issue)?

Rockets have sucked Warriors into their style of game, then been better at it

Associated Press
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Through an 82-game regular season, the Golden State Warriors averaged 322.7 passes a game β€” the ball flew around the court with energy, found the open man and he buried the shot. For the season, 63.1 percent of the Warriors’ buckets were assisted. It was egalitarian. It was modern NBA basketball. It was “the beautiful game.”

The Houston Rockets, on the other hand, averaged 253.3 passes per game, fewest in the NBA. What they did lead the league in was isolation sets β€” 14.5 percent of their offense was the old-school style that the Warriors shunned. It worked for the Rockets, they scored an impressive 112 points per 100 possessions on those plays, but it looked more like a 1990s slog than a Mike D’Antoni offense.

In Game 5, the Warriors had 257 passes and 56 percent of their buckets were assisted (the first time that number got over 50 percent in a couple of games). In turn, isolations were the third most common kind of play the Warriors ran in the game (which was better than they did in Game 4, but still not who they normally are). Add in post-ups, which are essentially isolations just down on the block, and you get 25.7 percent of the Warriors plays in Game 5 being one-on-one.

The Warriors have been sucked into the Rockets’ game, and Houston is better at it.

The Rockets are up 3-2 in the Western Conference Finals and in the last two games have been the better clutch team. The better fourth quarter team. The team imposing their style on the game when it matters. For years the versatility of the Warriors allowed them to win regardless of the style of play β€” slow it down and be physical, play fast and up-tempo, whatever teams tried to do β€” but not against these Rockets. Not in this throwback, isolation-heavy style.

If the Warriors can’t change that dynamic nothing else will matter, and they will be watching the Finals on television for the first time in four years.

For the Rockets, imposing their will and style starts with their defense. Since the first game of the season β€” which was against these Warriors back in October β€” the Rockets have switched everything on defense. It was assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik’s plan, his counter to the ball movement of Golden State and the many teams trying to emulate their style. Everybody in the NBA is switching more on defense, but nobody was doing it as much or with the gusto of the Rockets. For example, Utah switched a lot against Houston in the last playoff round, but with Rudy Gobert at center they tried to switch less with the big men, wisely preferring to keep Gobert back as a rim protector. That opened opportunities for the Rockets to attack.

Houston switched everything. All the time. Even when logic dictated they shouldn’t. Big man Clint Capela has the athleticism and instincts to guard on the perimeter, so they let him. Other teams try to tag out quickly from the mismatches switching can create (scram switches behind the play are trendy now), but the Rockets tend to live with the switch and just send help. What the Rockets became doing this all season is smooth and proficient with switching, and it has shown in this series.

Kevin Durant is supposed to be the counter to this β€” he is the Warriors best one-on-one player, and switch or no there is no good matchup to defend him. So the Warriors lean on him in these situations, they get him the rock a lot.

Durant had 10 isolations and six post-ups in Game 5 β€” 16 of his 29 plays were mano-a-mano contests. KD can excel at them, but as the Warriors start to slow it down and hunt out those mismatches they move the ball less, and they play into Rockets’ hands. They have slid into Houston’s style. Part of this was missing Andre Iguodala, both a good defender and a guy who keeps the ball moving on offense. Without him decisions change β€” there was a fourth-quarter play where Stephen Curry drove past his man, got into floater range, the Rockets brought help off the man from the corner, but now that is Kevon Looney, and Curry looked then decided to take the floater rather than make that pass to a non-shooter. Curry’s shot hit the back of the rim and bounced out.

The Rockets have slowed the game down, muddied it up, and they are comfortable playing this way. The Rockets have thrived in this style despite the fact James Harden has struggled (Chris Paul has had a couple of big fourth quarters). The Warriors can beat 28 other teams four times in seven games playing this style, too, because they have the talent. Just not Houston. The Rockets have plenty of talent too, their bench guy Eric Gordon is knocking down seemingly every shot he takes, and this series is being played on their terms.

Houston is just better at this style.

Golden State is not dead in this series β€” they go home for Game 6 and are expected to get Iguodala back. More importantly, the health of Chris Paul and his hamstring are up in the air.

But the Warriors need to get back to being themselves β€” playing faster, sharing the ball (despite pressure), and using that to get the open threes or driving dunks they use to bury teams. It will not be easy β€” the Warriors played their game for stretches in Game 4 at home, but like a cheesy horror movie villain, these Rockets refuse to die. They are relentless, and they’re aggressive with their switching. The Rockets are incredibly good, and they know who they are. They have been themselves this series (just with more missed threes).

If the Warriors don’t get back to being themselves, if they keep trying to beat the Rockets at Houston’s game, they will be on vacation in Cabo before June for the first time in years.

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

AP
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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

As expected, Chris Paul said he will be good to go (players are the worst at providing a timeline for their injuries).

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

AP
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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.