A matchup with the NBA's supervillains, the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets lost center Nene Hilario in game four with what was originally ruled a groin injury. Parker is out for the entirety of the playoffs, but Leonard was only announced as out for this game. Instead, James Harden played the worst game of his career, and the Spurs played with an energy and focus that made them a formidable opponent with or without their MVP candidate. No one on the Spurs averaged less than 3.89 miles per hour during the game.
Tim Duncan is no longer on the team, Manu Ginobili is 39, and Tony Parker suffered a season-ending tendon injury in the second game of the Rockets series. "We have to make them take tough shots, but we also have to finish it with the rebound".
The truth is, as good as Harden was all season, he will likely be remembered by what happened against the Spurs Thursday.
The Warriors are 8-0 this postseason and are looking to return to the NBA Finals for the third straight year.
"We understand that the team we're now facing is the most risky team in the league with a lot of weapons", Pau Gasol said. "I know what I can do". Their defensive rotations were as sharp as they've ever been, even without the two-time Defensive Player of the Year on the floor. Will Pop be willing to play small against the Warriors, even if that means succumbing to their pace? That is more than any other team. The Spurs improved to 16-3 when taking a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series. Golden State won the most recent meeting, and that win came without Kevin Durant. However, the Spurs are still the favorites to win the series, 76 percent according to Topbet's odds.
On Thursday night, San Antonio had the game all but wrapped up by half-time, when they led 61-42.
Aldridge has looked over the hill for much of these playoffs.
Simmons responded by scoring 10 points on 5-for-13 shooting in 26 minutes.
Aldridge more than picked up the slack in Leonard's absence.
"It was frustrating because I wanted to play, " Leonard said.
That will be a task for Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, who did a brilliant job last summer in hiring D'Antoni and then building a team that fit his vision - including a pair of questionable signings in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson that proved to be flawless fits. Last season, when the Warriors won 73 regular season games and the Spurs won 67 it seemed that destiny would square off the dynasty of old with the dynasty of new.
Of course, the Spurs will have no chance if Leonard isn't healthy.
For one magical night, at least, Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge silenced his detractors.
One thing we can expect during the West Finals for sure?
After a terrific showing in Game 5, Game 6 was supposed to be exciting.