NBA

Watch: Stephen Curry on his fitness level heading into Western Conference Finals with Houston Rockets

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Stephen Curry averaged 24.5 points in the second round.

If the Golden State Warriors want to get through the Houston Rockets, let alone repeat as champions, the health and conditioning of Stephen Curry will be of utmost importance.

Curry returned in the second round against the New Orleans Pelicans after missing 16 games with an MCL sprain and mostly looked like himself, averaging 24.5 points on 47.7 per cent shooting.

“Yeah I feel good. I feel confident in what I’m able to do out there,” Curry said. “The timing can still get a little bit better with the ball and things like that when you start to get so excited.”

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Chris Paul reaches first Western Conference Finals in emphatic fashion

Jay Asser 9/05/2018
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Chris Paul had 41 points, 10 assists and no turnovers in Game 5.

Chris Paul destroyed the most condemning narrative of his career with one of his best playoff performances.

This season for the Houston Rockets has been so much about James Harden’s MVP calibre campaign, but in Game 5 against the Utah Jazz, the spotlight was fixated on Paul.

The veteran point guard had a sizzling night with 41 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers in a 112-102 victory to finally advance to the first conference finals of his career.

It’s been a long time coming for Paul, who has played 86 playoff games without ever appearing in the third round, the most in NBA history.

That fact has been a dark cloud hanging over Paul’s Hall of Fame-worthy career, in which he’s been one of the best point guards to ever play.

Now that he’s broken through the one barrier that had for so long eluded him, Paul isn’t ready to celebrate. His previous inability to reach the conference finals will no longer be used against him, but if he ends his career without a title, that will be more than enough ammunition for some to downplay his impact.

“I don’t know, is that what you play for?” Paul said of advancing. “For us, like we said before the game and every game, they’re in our way.”

Paul, alongside Harden, will now face the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

It will be the second trip to third round for Harden, but if not for Paul’s presence, it may not have happened – or been delayed at the very least.

On a night Harden was under the weather and struggling to score, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-22 shooting, the value of Paul was on full display.

The 33-year-old grabbed the reins of the offence and dominated, especially in the fourth quarter when he had 20 points – the highest-scoring quarter of his career, regular season or playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Paul was a killer off the dribble and delivered dagger after dagger by shooting 13-of-18 on jump shots, including a hyper-efficient 8-of-10 on 3-pointers.

The veteran has hardly been needed to do it all this season due to Harden’s brilliance, but the win was a reminder of the luxuries Houston are equipped with.

“Unbelievable,” Harden said of Paul. “He took over the game. He put us on his back and said, ‘listen, I got us.’ That’s big time, a big time performance.

“He got in his bag and he called everybody off. He said, ‘you get out the way.’ He had that look in his eyes. I don’t care what you say, if he has that look in his eyes every single night, he’s a problem.”

Paul is now as close as he’s ever been to a championship, but a monumental obstacle awaits.

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Watch: Draymond Green says Golden State Warriors not fixated on Houston Rockets

Jay Asser 9/05/2018
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Draymond Green and the Warriors are returning to the Western Conference Finals.

While the Houston Rockets have made it known all season long they’re consumed with taking down the Golden State Warriors, the defending champions don’t share a similar “obsession” according to Draymond Green.

The teams will meet in the Western Conference Finals after storming through the playoffs, setting up what was an inevitable clash of the titans.

Whereas Golden State have been here before, having reached three straight Finals and coming away with two titles, Houston have shown an eagerness to dethrone the champions to blaze their own path.

“They have made it known that their team is built to beat us,” Green said after the Warriors eliminated the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 5 of the second round. “Their ‘obsession’ or whatever you want to call it, it is what it is.”

Though the Rockets claimed two of the three regular-season meetings and won an NBA-best 65 games to keep Golden State from grabbing the one seed for the first time since 2014, Green claimed his side aren’t fixated on proving anything to their challengers.

“Man, we won two championships in three years. We’re not about to run off talking about how bad we want to play somebody,” Green said.

“We want to win another championship, and it don’t matter who’s in the way of that. If you’re in the way of that, then you happen to be in the way. But we’re not about to run around like, ‘Yeah, we want to play them in the conference finals.’ For what? It doesn’t matter to us who we play. However, we got them. All right, now let’s get it. We get to it now.

“We’ve got a goal. Whoever is in the way of that goal, then we got to see you. You got to see us. All right now, they’re in the way. Perfect. But we’re not running around talking about, ‘Man, we want them bad.’ Nah, we want a championship bad. Another one.”

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