Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

Legacies at stake on both sides in Game 7 of Western Conference finals

james-harden-steph-curry-052718-ftr
Steph Curry guards James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Getty Images)

HOUSTON - So much riding on one game, which goes beyond which team reaches The Finals and which one reaches for the golf clubs.

Reputations and images and legacies also can and will be determined in this winner-take-all battle between the Warriors and Rockets. Such is the way of professional sports and instant analysis and fortunes, both teams and players and coaches.

That said, here's what's on the line for the main figures in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals:

* James Harden. He can make a solid case for being the second-best player in the NBA over the past three seasons, having finished top three in Kia MVP voting twice and will perhaps take home the award this season.

But LeBron James went to The Finals three times in that span and won once. Harden, on the other hand, doesn't know what June basketball feels like since he joined the Rockets.

He'll have his best chance Monday. He'll be on his court, playing before his crowd, 48 minutes away from facing LeBron and the Cavaliers for a championship.

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Sure Not Now

If he loses against the Warriors, then Harden will keep the crown as Best Active Player Without A Championship, which isn't an honor he embraces. With the possibility of playing this game without Chris Paul, Harden might need to explode for 40 points or more. And that still might not be enough.

He's still in his prime, but reaching The Finals, much less winning, isn't guaranteed to happen. Remember how Oklahoma City was "destined" to return to The Finals when Harden played there?

* Kevin Durant. His championship demons were destroyed last summer when he joined a loaded team and did exactly what everyone expected. Yet Durant didn't sign up for a one-and-done. The only way to justify leaving OKC is by winning multiple titles.

His performance in this series has gone hot and cold. This isn't the same Durant who tore through everyone last spring and summer; he seems bewildered at times by the Houston defence. If he comes up flat and the Warriors lose, the sensitive Durant might want to stay off social media.

* Chris Paul. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said what everyone feels about Paul and his hamstring injury: It stinks. Paul deserves so much more, especially after such a solid run through the playoffs in every round, including outplaying Steph Curry until the injury.

Paul never reached the conference finals until now and at 33 is running out of chances to play for the championship. He'll become an instant hero in Houston if he pulls a Willis Reed and inspires the Rockets in Game 7, then again if he beats his pal LeBron in The Finals.

If not? Then he'll wonder why the Basketball Gods are against him.

* Steph Curry. A fourth straight trip to The Finals would make Curry the LeBron of the West. He shook himself free from a shooting slump to recover nicely in this series and save the Warriors from elimination in six games.

* Mike D'Antoni. Validation would come finally for D'Antoni should he mastermind a victory over the four All-Star Warriors, especially so should he do it without Paul in Game 7.

D'Antoni heard too often about how his offences weren't built to last in the postseason but nobody's saying that now. Anyway, the Rockets employ a far different system than the one he used in Phoenix. Translated: Give him credit for adjusting and cooking up an offence to suit the talents of his players and not vice versa.

Also, with the help of lead assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the Rockets' defence is causing plenty of issues for the Warriors this series. Overall, D'Antoni has pushed all the right buttons.

* Steve Kerr. Has he already done enough for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach just off two championships alone? If not, then a fourth straight trip to The Finals might be the trick.

But Kerr hasn't always convinced his players to remain calm in fourth quarters. Why did the Warriors' offence suffer costly breakdowns in Games 4 and 5? Yes, Houston's defence rose up, but adjustments by Golden State were slow to come, if at all.

* Andre Iguodala. He isn't expected to play Game 7 and if the Warriors advance, you wonder if he'll be ready for another shot at LeBron. The Warriors gave him a nice contract extension here in his twilight because of what he means to them in spring and summer. They could use his on-court leadership.

* Draymond Green. The Warriors are still looking for a breakout game in this series from their emotional leader. It's not that Green has been a ghost; rather, he just hasn't stood out in the small lineup or made his presence known in a big way, other than with the referees (as usual).

It would help if Green began hitting those open 3-pointers the Rockets are generously giving him.

* Daryl Morey. Often celebrated as one of the top general managers in the game, Morey built this Rockets team with beating the Warriors in mind. He traded for Paul and signed P.J. Tucker last summer, and those two have repaid that faith with solid playoff performances.

How many more times must Morey tweak the Rockets here in the Harden era before Houston finally strikes gold. For his sake, hopefully, this was the final time. But again, much depends on Paul's hamstring. Sometimes, the fate of your team is beyond your control. Sometimes, you need luck.

* Houston. This city endured a deadly flood, then lifted itself with the help of ordinary citizens and a handful of local athletes and celebrities, then celebrated its first World Series triumph courtesy of the Astros. For the last several months, therefore, Houston has been in the headlines, and would like to add another late Monday night.

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