The NBA Playoffs are in full gear. This is the time everyone calls, “the REAL season.” Rotations are shortened. The game slows down and gets tougher. Players flip a switch and find that extra gear, all for the chance to be the ones to raise the trophy in the end.
The Playoffs are also the time when fans are more engaged. Fans also bring their A-games. Whether it’s through analysis, memes or straight-up fanaticism, there’s always something to see outside the game.
That’s why SLAM PH is telling the stories of several playoff teams through the lens of some of their loyal Filipino fans. Distance, background and nationality don’t matter when it comes to NBA Playoff basketball. These Pinoy fans speak up and give their honest outlook for their respective teams in this year’s Playoffs.
The Houston Rockets are the most confusing team in the NBA.
James Harden is the game’s greatest conman, baiting and bamboozling defenders like they were born yesterday. Short of clawing his eyeballs from their sockets, nobody has figured out how to slow down his offensive onslaught. Dread it. Run from it. His step back three is inevitable.
Up top, Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey have broken basketball—maximizing efficiency and exploiting every loophole in the book. While other teams bet big on draft picks or super teams, these guys are counting cards, knowing their algorithm of ‘threes and frees’ will eventually even out.
The Rockets are a team that’s poised on the edge of greatness. More than ever, they seem like the league’s best hope to topple a teetering titan—a dynasty that is as talented as it is vilified. So why do I hate them so goddamn much?
The answer lies with the obvious omission—Chris Paul. Irrational as it may seem, I’ve taken every tech, flop, nut shot, and playoff choke-job as a personal affront. The Point God just ruins my day, like a crap stain on an immaculate pair of Jordan 4s. To get me to see the light, I talked to a CP3 lifer and ordained minister of the Point God’s church.
Anton Holmes, a data scientist-software engineer, has told me for years that Chris Paul is the greatest point guard of our generation. Before he welcomed CP3 into his heart, he worshipped John Stockton, seeing him as the only foil to Jordan’s chokehold on the NBA. Fast forward to today, and Anton proclaims that Paul is Stockton Incarnate, and he had the numbers to back it up.
“CP3 had 2,105 assists before even reaching Stockton’s age as a rookie. He just had to average another 900 for 15 seasons to break the record. Quite impossible, but still—he had 925 assists during his third year in the league. Russell Westbrook, the current season’s leader in assists and averaging a triple-double for three straight years, has never hit 900. Even Steve Nash only hit 898. LeBron? Never. The other noteworthy player to have reached over 900 for a season? His now-teammate, James Harden.”
But Stockton is more than just the all-time league leader in assists. He was also an ironman; a scrappy, hard-nosed irritant who made an impact on the other side of the court—not unlike Chris Paul.
“What’s often noticed in Paul and Stockton are their decision-making and passing skills. What deserves as much attention is their gulang game, which is on another level.
“That doesn’t even include how he manhandles Stephen Curry and gets away with fouling him on every possession off the ball. For some, Chris Paul is annoying. A whiner, a flopper. For me, he’s today’s John Stockton. While other players may have fancier game, I’d stick to his, any day.”
And yet, for all the assists and accolades, the perennial knock on Paul is that he has never gotten it together to succeed at the highest level. He left Lob City to join James Harden, a player who has transformed himself into the best scorer in the world right before our very eyes. The difference is Anton has seen that decimating scoring prowess firsthand.
“I got to see the Nets play in Toyota Center on a trip to Houston. I did feel bad that I couldn’t see my boy Chris Paul in action, but Harden was in the midst of his hot streak, and you do not pass up an opportunity to catch the MVP at his peak.
“Fifty-eight. On 34 shots. Playing 45 minutes. Several chances to win, including one at the 4th quarter buzzer. An L. It was an uphill battle. But we had James Harden to carry us.”
With the joint forces of CP3’s leadership and The Beard’s otherworldly scoring, combined with the fact that the Warriors are as vulnerable as ever, Anton believes the Rockets have enough of firepower to blow by the defending champs.
“The Rockets currently sit at 33% to win the series and 11% to win it all. I like our chances much more than last year.
“They’re not afraid of the Warriors anymore. They might not have home-court advantage but they’ve withstood much more this year, including pulling off a win with Harden starting off 0-15.
“My loyalty to Chris Paul is what made me a Rockets fan. Having Harden, D’Antoni, and Morey helps, too. It’s also worth noting that as Houston embraced the analytics movement. Statheads unite. Run as one.”
Only time will tell if the Point God will answer Anton’s prayers.
Photos from the author and Getty Images