HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets will be without star guard Chris Paul for Game 6 because of a strained hamstring, a huge blow for a team trying to close out the Golden State Warriors.
Paul was injured in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s victory that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
"I hate it for him, above all," coach Mike D’Antoni said. "He’s practically won us the last two games. But great opportunity for other guys and we have plenty to choose from and we’ll be ready."
Eric Gordon, the star of Game 5, will start in Paul’s place Saturday night. He started 30 games this season while Paul and James Harden dealt with injuries.
"It will not change anything that we do or how we do it," D’Antoni said.
Paul’s right leg will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston following Game 6. On Friday, he was with the team, laughing and joking with teammates as they walked on the court for practice.
Harden said the Rockets don’t have time to dwell on the absence of their nine-time All-Star.
"We don’t want to come and be pouting around," he said. "We want to keep our same swagger, our same positive energy. We try to feed that off to him as well: ‘Be happy, be ready; get this thing right, get this thing going and be back in no time."’
Paul is in the conference finals for the first time after failing to advance past the second round in nine previous post-season trips. In his first season in Houston after a summer trade from the Clippers, Paul has paired with Harden to move the Rockets within one victory of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since Houston won titles in 1994 and 1995.
He has totalled 47 points in the last two games — both Houston wins — to allow the Rockets to come back from a 2-1 deficit.
Gordon has played a big role. On Thursday night, he came off the bench to score 24 points and made a steal in the final seconds to secure the victory.
"Whoever is out, it’s almost like the next guy up, and everybody finds a way," Gordon said. "We just collectively find a way to win. It’s definitely going to be tough. But I still think at the end of the day, we’re a tough team and we can still find ways to win."
D’Antoni wouldn’t speculate on Paul’s availability if the Warriors force Game 7 on Monday night in Houston. But he said Paul will travel with the team to Oakland for Saturday’s game.