"You never can tell," Sir Winston said, "whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck."
I do not expect that the awful, awful luck of Chris Paul's hamstring injury at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals will turn into good luck.
Paul had been brilliant Thursday night. He'd willed the Rockets to victory on the back of hard-fought defense and a whole bunch of off-balance, end-of-shot-clock, second-half shots that somehow found a way to find the bottom of the net. He'd been the tip of the spear of a physical Rockets defense that's often been dominant in this series, forcing the Warriors -- one of the best-assembled rosters and perhaps greatest dynasties in NBA history -- out of their comfort zone.
And then, with less than a minute left in Game 5, Paul pulled up lame after missing a nine-foot floater. As the Warriors, down one to the Rockets, charged to the other end of the court on the most important possession of both teams' seasons, Paul stayed in the backcourt and clutched his hamstring. It was as if the basketball gods exacted a price from the Rockets: Yes, we will allow you a shot at upending this dynasty, but you must sacrifice one of your own.
And now Chris Paul, one win away from his first NBA Finals appearance, willand potentially in Game 7 ... if the Warriors extend the series. His destiny rests in the hands of Harden, the presumptive NBA MVP but someone who has, in the biggest moments of his basketball career, turned into a wilting flower.
Even before Paul's injury was announced, the Warriors were still the favorites to win the series despite being down 3-2, and the favorites to win the NBA title.
But for Harden and the Rockets, there is always this thought: In the worst of circumstances comes the best of opportunities.
Want to prove your worth in the biggest of situations?
Well, James Harden, here's your chance.
But it might be time to pray to Saint Jude, the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. Because history shows that Harden, when pushed to the brink, has been less than his dominant self.
In Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals last season, when the San Antonio Spurs finished off the Rockets in blowout fashion, Harden simply disappeared. He was 2-of-11 from the field (including 2-of-9 from three). He had six turnovers (after having nine in the game before).
When the Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, Harden was decent -- he averaged 26.6 points on 31 percent three-point shooting, and averaged 5.2 turnovers per game -- but his team got smoked. Three of the four losses came by 26 points or more. That entire series felt like a lost cause.
In Game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference finals against the Warriors, Harden -- after a heroic 45-point effort in Houston's Game 4 win -- again struggled, scoring 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting and giving the ball away 12 times.
Hell, his big-spotlight struggles even go back to college. His sophomore year at Arizona State, Harden led the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament, and once he got there he laid a massive egg: 1-of-8 for nine points in the first round, 2-of-10 for 10 points in the second round.
It was supposed to be different for him this year, where another future Hall of Famer in the backcourt could ease the scoring burden off Harden, taking off the pressure and allowing him some time to rest. It was different this year: Finally, for the first time since he was a fledgling star with the Oklahoma City Thunder, it wasn't all on him. And it's worked. The Rockets have put the Warriors in their most precarious situation since Golden State acquired Kevin Durant.
Now it almost feels like it's the Rockets, up 3-2, with two shots at making the NBA Finals, who are in the precarious position.
Maybe this will be Harden, Paul and the Rockets' darkest hour, the part of their career where they get this close -- only to have it ripped away.
Or maybe it's Harden's biggest opportunity.
Here's your chance, James. Time to shoot your shot.