CLEVELAND — The Celtics are still far from guaranteed to make the NBA Finals as they head into Game 6 against the Cavs on Friday night with a 3-2 series lead. Still, it's hard not to view a potential Finals trip for Boston with a little more intrigue in the fallout of Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
Whether it ends up being the Cavs or Celtics representing the East, the end result of the Finals had largely been a foregone conclusion for the past couple months. The Warriors and Rockets were considered heavy favorites over everyone after spending the entire year on a different tier than the rest of the league from a winning and talent perspective.
The talent disparity has slowly started to level out over the past week, however, thanks to injuries. The Rockets now have a 3-2 series lead with a potential Game 7 on their home floor, but a hamstring injury to All-Star point guard Chris Paul — who will miss Game 6 — makes them look vulnerable all of a sudden. That's particularly true considering Mike D'Antoni has only been playing a seven-man rotation for the past few games. Paul said he's going to be "alright" in the postgame, but that's far from a sure thing for the 33-year-old guard, who has been hampered by hamstring injuries in the past postseasons.
With Marcus Smart dispatched against James Harden and a highly switchable lineup to use against the Rockets high-powered offense, the Celtics should have a puncher's chance in that potential series whether or not Paul is suiting up.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are dealing with several key injuries of their own.