Following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s series-levelling win against the Houston Rockets, Chris Paul admitted he is relishing the prospect of a winner-takes-all Game 7.
Paul and the Thunder had their backs to the bubble wall, a tougher spot than usual when facing elimination. This time meant lots of packing, getting ready for a potential return home after a long time away. They weren’t interested in their trip – or their season – ending.
“We’re not ready to go yet,” Paul said. He made sure they wouldn’t.
Paul gave the Thunder at least one more game at Disney, scoring 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter for a 104-100 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night in Game 6 of a Western Conference first-round series.
Paul made two free throws with 13.1 seconds left and the game tied at 100, and Danilo Gallinari added two more after a turnover by Russell Westbrook to finish it off.
A series-deciding Game 7 now looms in the early hours of Thursday morning, with the winners advancing to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semi-finals.
Paul is excited by the prospect of the showdown. “Ain’t nothing like it,” he said. “Doesn’t matter who it is against, it’s a Game 7. I just want my guys to know we gave ourselves a chance. We got a chance. We are going to keep fighting.”
Monday’s Game 6 was close all the way – neither team led by double digits – as the Thunder bounced back from a blowout in Game 5.
Nobody handles close games better than Paul, who led the NBA with 150 points in clutch situations, defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer points.
“We expect him to make those shots, especially at the end of the game,” said Gallinari, who added 25 points.
Speaking on court in a post-game interview, Paul said: “This is who we are. We are built for stuff like this. A lot of our guys have been pushed out or traded away. But we just stick together and keep fighting.
“I love my team-mates. Dennis Schroder is a ‘dog’. I’ll play against anybody with him and our team any day. When it gets to crunch time in the fourth quarter, some people are built for it and some shy away from it.
James Harden had 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, while Robert Covington had 18 and Westbrook 17 in his second game back from a right quadriceps strain. But they combined for 12 of the Rockets’ 22 turnovers.
Westbrook believes Houston have lost the close games in the series more than Oklahoma City won them. “It has kind of been on us, to be completely honest,” he said.