HOUSTON — Chris Paul’s grit and veteran leadership have pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink of elimination.
Now the Houston Rockets must wait to see if his injured leg is strong enough to help them take one last step to the NBA Finals.
Eric Gordon came off the bench to score 24 points and his steal on Golden State’s last possession secured a 98-94 victory Thursday night that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals. But the victory came with a cost, as Paul had to leave the game in the final minute with a right hamstring injury that could keep him out of Game 6.
“His spirits aren’t great,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He wanted to be out there, and for sure he’s worried … we’ll see tomorrow how it goes.”
Paul was receiving treatment after the game and did not speak to reporters.
The Rockets head to Oakland for Game 6 on Saturday night a win away from knocking off the defending champions and advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 1994-95.
Kevin Durant scored 29 points for the Warriors, who lost in Game 5 of a playoff series for just the second time since 2015. Just like Cleveland in the East, a run of three straight trips to the championship round is on the verge of ending.
“We haven’t been in this position before … so it’s a chapter we need to figure out and finish the story,” Stephen Curry said.
The Rockets won a second straight defensive struggle between the two potent offenses, leaving the Warriors a loss from missing the NBA Finals for the first time since 2014.
Draymond Green made a 3-pointer with just over minute left to get Golden State within one. Harden, who was 0 for 11 on 3s, missed his last one with less than 30 seconds left, giving the Warriors the ball back.
Curry missed a floater and Trevor Ariza grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 10 seconds left. But he made just one of two free throws to give the Warriors another chance.
But Gordon came up with his steal when Green lost control in the lane and added two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to put it away.
Green was asked what was supposed to happen on the play.
“We was supposed to score,” he said. “I lost the ball … not much more to it than that.”
Harden scoffed at a reporter who questioned him about his struggles from long range in the last two games, where he’s gone a combined 3 for 22.
“Who cares,” he said. “I’m just missing shots, but we’re winning.”
Klay Thompson shook off a knee injury that had his status for this game in question to score 23 points and Curry added 22. A bruised left knee kept Andre Iguodala out for the second straight game, and Kevon Looney started in his place.
After losing Game 1 of the series, the Rockets made the best of home-court advantage this time, thrilling a sellout crowd that included Justin Timberlake, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt and rapper Travis Scott.
It’s Houston’s second straight win in the series after snapping Golden State’s NBA playoff-record, 16-game home winning streak with a 95-92 victory on Tuesday night.
Golden State led by one to start the fourth before Paul got going, scoring seven points to power a 10-5 run that gave the Rockets an 81-77 lead with about 9 1/2 minutes left.
Thompson made a 3-pointer after that and then officials reviewed Paul’s first basket of the quarter and ruled he got it off after the shot clock expired, leaving the Warriors ahead 80-79.
The Rockets were clinging to a one-point lead with about seven minutes left when Durant fouled Gordon on a 3-point attempt, losing one of his shoes in the process. Gordon made all three free throws to start a 7-2 spurt that extended the lead to 88-82 midway through the quarter.
Warriors: Coach Steve Kerr was unsure Thursday if Iguodala would be able to return for Game 6. “He’s dying to play, but he’s not healthy enough,” Kerr said. “We’ll just continue to take it day to day.”… Curry made four free throws to tie Rick Barry for most free throws made in the playoffs in franchise history with 378. … Golden State had 18 turnovers.
Rockets: Clint Capela had 12 points and 14 rebounds for his seventh double-double this postseason. … Houston made 13 of 43 3-pointers, led by four from Gordon.
SANTA FE STRONG
The Rockets honored the 10 people killed in last week’s school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, before the game, with the school’s choir singing the national anthem and team owner Tilman Fertitta wearing a “Santa Fe Strong” T-shirt, before Houston scored the game’s first six points in a first half where the team led by as many as 11.
Houston also wore rectangular patches on its jerseys that read: “Santa Fe HS,” to remember those affected by the tragedy.
“We wanted to come out and give them light, put smiles on their faces (and) clear their minds a little bit,” Harden said.
After Game 6 on Saturday, the Rockets would host Game 7 on Monday if necessary.