Eric Gordon believes the Houston Rockets would be playing for title if Chris Paul had played

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HOUSTON — Guard Eric Gordon believes that Chris Paul’s strained right hamstring cost the Houston Rockets a trip to the NBA Finals.

Paul, a nine-time All-Star point guard, missed the final two games of the Western Conference finals after injuring his hamstring in the final minute of Houston’s Game 5 win. The Rockets built double-digit halftime leads in Games 6 and 7, but the Golden State Warriors rallied on both occasions to eliminate Houston and advance to their fourth straight Finals.

“It sucks because you know you could win this series if we just had one more playmaker,” Gordon said after the Rockets’ 101-92 loss Monday night in Game 7. “If we had Chris, if he was out there, we’d have been playing on Thursday. It’s just tough.”

The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to come back from double-digit halftime leads in multiple elimination games in the same series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Golden State seized the lead in the last two games by dominating the third quarters, outscoring the Rockets by a total of 35 points in those 24 minutes.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni bemoaned Paul’s absence when asked about the Warriors’ dominance in the third quarters.

“That’s what C.P. was so good at in two [of the] games we won,” D’Antoni said. “They’d make a little run, he’d hit a 3. They make another run, and he makes another play. And you have to have those momentum changers and stoppers, and the last two games, we didn’t have them.”

Paul averaged 21.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists during the playoffs, advancing to the conference finals for the first time in his career. He had a 27-point performance in their Game 4 win over the Warriors, keying a rally from 12 down in the fourth quarter, and he scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half of their Game 5 victory.

It’s the second time in the past three years that Paul’s postseason ended prematurely due to injury. The Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated in six games by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2016 first round, when Paul broke his hand during Game 4.

“Mostly, I hate it for him,” D’Antoni said. “He’s probably more devastated than anybody.”

Paul received treatment around the clock in hopes of being able to come back for Game 7, but a Grade 2 hamstring strain typically takes at least two weeks to heal. He tried to test the hamstring Monday but wasn’t close to being ready to play.

“It is tough,” D’Antoni said. “But again, it’s part of the game. I thought we had enough, and I still do. It’s just, I think, devastating to the players, to me, to all the fans of Houston. But on the other hand, then I look, and I try to be optimistic, and I just love our spirit and what they try to do and how they climbed all year to get where they’ve got to get that close.”

While Gordon declared that the Rockets would have won the series with Paul healthy, other Houston players refused to use his injury as an excuse.

“I won’t even get into that, man,” said Rockets forward PJ Tucker, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds in Game 7. “It’s a grown-man league. It don’t matter. Next man up. You’ve got to play, got to win. It don’t matter who plays. Step up.”

Added Houston guard James Harden, who had 32 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists: “We don’t even think about that. We had an opportunity tonight and last game without Chris. Obviously, he’s a big part of why we’re here, but we had opportunities, especially in the first half both games.”

The Rockets had a historically poor shooting night in Game 7. They went 7-of-44 from 3-point range, including 27 consecutive misses, a record for the most missed 3s in a row during a playoff game. Houston will be haunted by some of those missed open looks as well as Paul’s injury.

“We should have won tonight,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN. “I don’t have much else to say.”



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