With the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, the Houston Rockets are rolling into the playoffs with their heads held high.
Finishing at a franchise record of 65-17, it is clear that this season’s Rockets are here to end the exhausted NBA Finals series of the Cleveland Cavaliers versus the Golden State Warriors once and for all.
The playoffs will define Houston, especially given head coach Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Chris Paul‘s infamous track record with playoff failures. Many continue to worry that their pasts in the postseason will catch up to them. I mean, it is not unreasonable to believe that when combining D’Antoni, Harden and Paul — all successful playoff letdowns — the result will only be just that, a letdown.
However, there is a valid and case-sealing point to be made before NBA skeptics riddle this team “Choke City.” The key to finally locking up all their postseason nightmares lies in the simple fact that Paul became a Rocket.
Here are the three reasons CP3’s presence on the Rockets this year will seal the deal on a title that has eluded Houston for over 20 years:
#1 Paul and Harden are electric together
Anyone that had their doubts on the Harden and Paul superstar combo — which seemingly felt like everyone — is about as silent as an Atlanta Hawks game any day of the week. This elite pairing has earned the title of the winningest duo this season, beating out the likes of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant by a mile. The way CP3 and the Beard calmly finesse their team up and down the floor — while making each other better — is beyond belief.
For the past five years, Harden has been a one-man show. The wear and tear that takes place with that kind of responsibility shows in the postseason. Just look at Paul, who has tried to carry his past teams to the next level for years. One-man teams simply run dry come the playoffs.
However, with Paul implemented as the main floor general for the Rockets’ offense, Harden is able to do his job with more efficiency, as the playmaker role is shared with — according to ESPN — the sixth best point guard of all time.
With Harden and Paul together, an opponent is consistently drenched with a full 48 minutes of emphatic point guard play, as they display their high-quality distribution, penetration and shooting every time down the floor.
#2 Paul is a team player
CP3 is a nine-time All-Defensive player and a four-time Assist Champion and has rightfully aided the entire Rockets roster tremendously.
Since Paul’s addition, Harden, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and even seasoned veterans Gerald Green and Trevor Ariza, have all seen their points per game increase since their preceding season.
In years prior, the Rockets’ offense was flooded with excessive isolation plays surrounding Harden. This led to poor ball movement, minimal team chemistry and easy shutdowns for other teams. With Paul, the floor opens up eminently for the Rockets. He is one of the greatest lob and pick-and-roll passers of all time, which makes everyone feel included, which makes everyone a threat. Instead of just having to worry about Harden down the floor, an opponent now has to worry about Harden, Paul, and frankly anyone else on the court.
CP3 pushes their team to be one of the best offenses in recent history by making sure that everyone is an option. That kind of trust he has built in Houston is irreplaceable.
Not to mention, this six-time Steals Champion has completely accelerated Houston’s previously nonexistent defense. The Rockets went from a defensive efficiency rating of 15th in league last year to an astonishing sixth this year. Additions like Mbah a Moute and Tucker have definitely helped that nine-spot jump; however, Paul has been at the forefront of Houston’s leadership on defense.
#3 Paul and D’Antoni are a perfect match
D’Antoni is best known for his mid-2000s, “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns. With point guard Steve Nash spearheading that revolutionary offense, D’Antoni has now found himself coaching yet another dominant, pace-pushing point guard with CP3.
It has been no secret that this year’s Rockets have shown uncanny similarities to D’Antoni’s former team. The only real difference is that the game has changed a bit, leaning much more on three pointers than ever before.
With Paul at the head of D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense, the ball movement is quick, precise and strictly yields execution. Having a coach that knows how to run just the right offense through his All-Star point guard is a compelling piece that will benefit Houston come the latter of the playoffs.
So is it too much of a stretch to say that — if he stays healthy — Paul will be the reason the Rockets snag that elusive Larry O’Brien Championship trophy?
Not at all.
Paul is everything the Rockets were missing to be champions.
From the lethal duo of him and Harden, to his ability to highlight everyone on the court through D’Antoni’s offense, CP3 is the key to success for the Rockets.