About Last Night

About Last Night: Paul runs the show

Chris Paul leads the Rockets past the Warriors without James Harden, the Pacers extend their surprising surge and Anthony Tolliver takes his life into his own hands

Houston Rockets point guard Chris Paul has been around the NBA long enough, 14 seasons and counting, to know that regular-season games don’t mean much of anything in the grand scheme.

As such, he wasn’t about to get overly excited with Saturday’s 118-112 road victory over the two-defending champion Golden State Warriors, in which the Rockets overcame the absence of reigning Kia MVP James Harden and recovered to finish strong after blowing a 20-point lead.

“Good win,” Paul said. “We got a game in Atlanta on Monday.”

And so the marathon continues, with that contest and 22 more to follow before the playoffs begin on April 13.

But if nothing else, the Rockets’ third win in as many meetings with the Warriors this season proved how good Paul can still be, even with his lead dog days behind him and his 34th birthday fast approaching.

Paul worked the Warriors over for 23 points and 17 assists, joining some rare company in the process.

It’s hard to imagine a lineup with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green could struggle as mightily as it did, getting outscored at a rate of 14.8 points per 100 possessions in their 12 minutes together against the Rockets.

Much of that had to do with Paul, who exploited Cousins’ lack of mobility by dragging the center into one pick and roll after another.

It’s not exactly a novel strategy. But it might be one of the few ways to seriously threaten the Warriors, as the Rockets did last season when they led 3-2 in the Western Conference finals before an injured Paul was forced to watch the final two games, both losses, from the bench.

And with another, even better initiator in Harden, there can be little doubt that the Rockets, no matter how little Friday’s game means in the long run, are dying to get healthy and earn another postseason shot at the champs.

Pay attention, coach!

We’re not sure how, but Kerr managed to not immediately notice one of his best players rolling on the floor in intense pain directly in front of him.

Although he didn’t sound especially convincing, Green said he doesn’t expect to miss any game time with the sprained ankle. Durant said it won’t matter even if he does: “I mean, he’ll be back for the playoffs. That’s the only thing we worry about here, right?”

Profiles in courage

First, it was Jarrett Allen. Now we have Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver, who became the latest NBA player to put his life at risk by challenging Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim.

Alas, Tolliver’s incredible defensive play made little difference as Antetokounmpo dominated per usual, racking up 27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 140-128 victory for the Bucks.

Keeping pace

The Indiana Pacers suffered what seemed to be an insurmountable blow on Jan. 23, when Victor Oladipo was lost for the season with a ruptured quad tendon. But after losing four straight in the immediate aftermath, the Pacers have since recovered to win eight of their past nine outings, including Friday’s 119-112 triumph over the Washington Wizards.

In addition to posting the league’s second-best defensive rating over that span, nine Pacers are averaging 7.9 points per game. Floor burns aren’t tracked, but they’re probably among the league leaders there as well thanks to hustle plays like these from Kyle O’Quinn …

… and Wes Matthews.

What, him worry?

The Boston Celtics suffered their latest inexplicable loss, trailing by as much as 25 and losing 126-116 to a Bulls team that entered Friday’s action sitting 22 games beneath them in the standings.

Not that Kyrie Irving’s worried or anything.

And speaking of the Bulls, how’s this for noteworthy?

Birthday boy

It’s been a breakout season for Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell, who made his first All-Star appearance last weekend and carries a career-high 20.2-point scoring average.

What better way to celebrate those achievements on his 23rd birthday, no less than playing one of the best games of his life?

In addition to tying his career high with 40 points, Russell earned himself an extra slice of cake by scoring the Nets’ final 12, including a massive go-ahead 3 in the final minute, to almost single-handedly lift them past the Charlotte Hornets.

Shooters shoot

Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young has quickly proven himself to have absolutely no conscience with the rock, ready and willing to launch shots from anywhere. That aggressiveness, however, doesn’t always go over well with his teammates.

Such was the case early in the second half against the Phoenix Suns, when Hawks forward John Collins, in verbiage unsuitable for a family web site, questioned Young’s shot selection after his errant pull-up 3 led to a Suns fast break.

Fortunately for the Hawks, Young didn’t listen. He scored 16 points over the remaining 21 minutes, including an even deeper, game-tying 3 naturally, off an assist from Collins to help fuel the game-winning push.

Giant sized

In case you forgot, Philadelphia 76ers center Boban Marjanovic is huuuuuuuuge.