We have some potential elimination games on the menu tonight. Pau Gasol plans to return tonight as the Bulls host the Cavs in what could be Chicago’s final home game. The Clippers will either finish off the Rockets tonight, or Houston will host Game 7 with all the momentum. To me, these are the most important storylines of the games tonight. Of course there are a million other factors at play here, like the banged up point guards in the Chicago-Cleveland series, Deandre Jordan’s free throw percentage, which Blake Griffin shows up for the fourth quarter, and whether or not Dwight Howard can manage to stay out of foul trouble so DJ doesn’t dominate the court while he’s gone.
I want to focus on those first two things though.
The Bulls hung with the Cavs right up until the final minute without having Pau Gasol at all. Rose missed his final 11 shots of the game, and the Bulls shot 40% as a unit – which is just about what they’ve been shooting for the entire series. If Chicago is to come back, Pau Gasol is not only going to have to play injured and take up space on the court, he has to assume a considerable role on offense. If I had to put a number on it, I’d Gasol’s health is sitting somewhere between 50-70%. The big question is whether or not he can be effective while he’s this physically limited.
It is completely within the realm of possibility that Rose and Butler shoot the lights out in front of a raucous Chicago crowd, but with what we’ve seen from Rose offensively in the past few games, I wouldn’t count on that scenario. I think the only way the Bulls win this game is if Pau gives his best Kirk Gibson impression.
The Staples Center is going to be LOUD. The Clip Show is on the verge of making their first Western Conference finals appearance in franchise history. Expect lobs and blocks and highlights. Also don’t expect the Clippers to shoot 33% on uncontested jumpshots like they did on Tuesday. If you go back and look at it, Game 5 for this series was full of anomalies. This game should feel a little less like a fluke (sorry Rocket fans). Unless *Space Jam Cliché*, Blake Griffin will have more than 2 assists.
I really don’t think the Clippers will lose their most important home game in franchise history, but if they do, this becomes Houston’s series to lose. The big factors here are the home crowd and the classic Lob City energy that Chris Paul and Company are bound to bring to the table. If the Rockets are going to stay alive, they’re going to find a way to reciprocate that intensity and stay out of foul trouble. Like I said above, the free throw shooting of DJ and Dwight is a wild card, but I believe the team that controls the atmosphere and momentum coming down the stretch will win the game (Wow! What an analysis!). Really though, unless Harden steals the show, dunks and lobs and a loud Clippers crowd will be how we look back on this game.
– Jim Bearor, @jimbearor