With the Houston Rockets' superstar point guard Chris Paul confirmed to miss Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors due to a right hamstring strain, it might be harder than usual for the Rockets to put the Warriors away and make it to their first NBA Finals since 1995. But all is not lost for Houston as the team heads to the Oracle Arena in Oakland for Sunday night's game, as sixth man Eric Gordon might have what it takes to help the Rockets end the series in six games, as suggested by a new report from Sports Illustrated.
At the moment, it's still unclear if Paul will remain on the sidelines for more than one game, but Sports Illustrated noted that the 33-year-old, nine-time All-Star point guard has had a history of hamstring problems, and suffered a similar strain in 2015 that resulted in several missed games in the postseason. The publication, however, added that the Rockets have played decently, if not superbly, without Paul, going 15-9 in the games he missed, as compared to 50-8 in the games he played.
In Chris Paul's absence, there's a good chance James Harden, who normally lines up beside "CP3" as the Rockets' shooting guard, will shoulder the bulk of the playmaking and ball-handling, given that he is as skilled in both departments as he is as a scorer. But as far as replacing Paul in the starting lineup is concerned, Sports Illustrated wrote that Eric Gordon could make a nice fill-in. As a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who is currently averaging more than 18 points per game in the Rockets' series against Golden State, Gordon might have to step forward as a starter, just like he did in 30 regular season games in 2017-18.
"We've played a lot of games like this so it's not uncharted territory," said Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni.
"We'll play the exact same way. We have to play better. We have to shoot the ball better. But it will not change anything we do or how we do it."Assuming Eric Gordon gets to start tonight in Game 6, he will likely be starting alongside Harden, forwards Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker, and center Clint Capela. Sports Illustrated pointed out that these five players played 160 minutes together in the regular season, and were similar in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency to the Rockets' usual starting lineup with Paul at point guard. Furthermore, Houston's lineups with Gordon and four regular starters currently have the ongoing postseason's best offensive lineup among those that have played at least 25 minutes together.
Though he's mainly known for his scoring, Eric Gordon's playmaking might also be put to the test tonight, as Clutch Points reported that D'Antoni considered starting him at point guard if Chris Paul can't play in Game 6. But regardless of what roles he has to play, most reports are pointing to Gordon's play as being pivotal if the Rockets want to win Game 6 and make their first Finals appearance since the days when Basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon was Houston's top player.