Game 7 for Thunder-Rockets, Game 2 for Heat-Bucks
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — The last time the Houston Rockets played a Game 7, they didn’t have Chris Paul and they wound up losing.
Paul wants to see history repeat itself.
The former Houston guard simply has willed fifth-seeded Oklahoma City into a deciding game of its Western Conference first-round series against the fourth-seeded Rockets, with Game 7 — the last game of the opening round of this postseason — set to be played Wednesday night.
“Ain’t nothing like it,” Paul said.
The winner moves on to Game 1 of a West semifinal series against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. The loser leaves the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World and goes home, certain to be lamenting a chance that got away.
Houston might already be dealing with some regret. The Rockets had a six-point lead with the ball with 4:01 left in Game 6, a perfect chance to close out the game and the series. They got outscored 12-2 the rest of the way, missing six of their last seven shots and turning the ball over three times in that span.
“We played about as bad as we can play,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And we were right there. … We’re going to respond.”
The Rockets’ most recent appearance in a Game 7 was the Western Conference finals in 2018, the year they wasted a 3-2 series lead against Golden State — falling after Paul was lost for the last two games of that series with a hamstring injury.
Paul was traded by Houston to the Thunder in July 2019 for Westbrook; draft picks were also involved. It was viewed as a rebuilding move for Oklahoma City, but with Paul leading the way, the Thunder have a chance to reach the second round for the first time since 2016.
“We’re not ready to go yet,” said Paul, who will be appearing in his seventh Game 7 — he’s 3-3 in his first six such appearances in those games. “Our team, we have had a memorable season, a lot of ups and downs and all that. We’re just going to continue to fight. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
By the time the Rockets and Thunder play Game 7 of their first-round series, there will have been four second-round games played in the Eastern Conference — including the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, where the fifth-seeded Miami Heat will look to take a 2-0 series lead on the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
“You have two really good teams,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We won Game 1. That’s it.”
Jimmy Butler had a playoff career-high 40 points for the Heat in their 115-104 win in Game 1.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA MVP and newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, bristled after the game when asked why he didn’t guard Butler down the stretch. But that was one of many issues for Antetokounmpo to think about after Game 1; he was 4 for 12 from the foul line and managed a low-for-him 18 points in 37 minutes.
It was the second time since March 2 that Antetokounmpo played more than 30 minutes and scored less than 20 points. Both were against Miami.
“You’ve got to understand, you’re playing basketball,” Antetokounmpo said. “Things don’t always go your way.”
A look at Wednesday’s games:
HEAT VS. BUCKS
— NEED TO KNOW: The Heat have won 25 of their last 31 series in which they hold a one-game lead at any point. The Bucks have won two consecutive series after dropping Game 1s, rallying to beat Orlando this season and Boston last season.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Heat G Duncan Robinson made only one 3-pointer in Game 1, and that was of the banked-in variety. Expect Miami to try to get him in rhythm early in Game 2.
— INJURY WATCH: Bucks G Eric Bledsoe (hamstring) missed Game 1, costing Milwaukee a top defender.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Antetokounmpo. He’s likely to soon become a two-time MVP and needs a bounceback night.
THUNDER VS. ROCKETS
— NEED TO KNOW: Both teams have 47-31 records this season; 44-28 in the regular season, 3-3 so far in the playoffs. The Thunder have won five of the nine head-to-head matchups.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Houston’s turnovers. When the Rockets have 14 or more turnovers, they’re 0-3 in this series. When they keep it below 14 turnovers, they’re 3-0.
— INJURY WATCH: Rockets G Russell Westbrook shot the ball better in Game 6 than he did in Game 5; he was 8 for 15 from the field Monday, as opposed to 3 for 13 in his first game back from a quad injury. But he had seven turnovers in Game 6, suggesting he’s not in his typical groove yet.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Houston. They came into this season as a title contender; the Thunder have been a surprise story. If the Rockets lose this game, who knows what happens this offseason.