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Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer 34d

Sore knee relegates Chris Paul to bench as Rockets hold off Warriors

NBA, Houston Rockets

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Chris Paul was a crunch time spectator during his Houston Rockets debut, cheering on his teammates from the bench for the final 4 minutes, 47 seconds of Tuesday's 122-121 comeback win over the Golden State Warriors, a decision coach Mike D'Antoni attributed to lingering soreness in the star point guard's left knee.

"Dragging his leg a little bit; I had to get him out of there," D'Antoni said.

Paul, the nine-time All-Star who pushed for the offseason trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Rockets, went to the end of the bench after subbing out but showed no sign of displeasure with D'Antoni's decision. Paul was on his feet for most of the final 4:47, smiling and rooting for his teammates, while waving a towel in celebration on several occasions.

"I'm a hell of a cheerleader, man," joked Paul, who wasn't certain whether he would play in Wednesday's road game against the Sacramento Kings.

Paul, who celebrated with James Harden and other teammates after officials waved off what briefly appeared to be a winning buzzer-beater by Golden State's Kevin Durant, said D'Antoni discussed with him during the fourth quarter the possibility of pulling him from the game. Paul praised D'Antoni's communication and agreed with the call to sub in sixth man Eric Gordon, who scored 24 points in the opener.

"We've got Eric Gordon on the bench, you know what I mean?" Paul said. "I was like, 'Yeah, EG, get me.' That's what this team is capable of [with] our depth. You can push through it as much as you want to, but you don't have to."

Paul, who sat out the preseason finale last week due to a bruised left knee, had four points on 2-of-9 shooting, eight rebounds and 11 assists in 33 minutes. He appeared to be laboring on the knee at times Tuesday night, but Paul played a key role in giving the Rockets a chance to pull off the comeback. With Harden resting, Houston sliced the deficit from 13 points to five in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, with Paul hitting a step-back jumper and dishing out four assists.

"I think on one leg, it's pretty good," D'Antoni said. "He's hurt. He came up with a big steal at the end and made some big plays at the end. He's a competitor, and it's hard to get him out, but it wasn't his best game. He knows that. He's going to play a lot better than that. He's also instrumental in why we win."

Harden offered his take on Paul.

"He's a fighter, man. He's going to go out there and give it his all," Harden said. "We've just got to get him healthy."

Paul finished the game with a plus-minus of minus-13. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Rockets were outscored by 13 points when Paul was paired with Harden, they were even when Paul played without Harden and they were plus-14 when Harden played without Paul.

Harden took a handoff from Paul and sliced through the lane for a left-handed layup on the Rockets' first possession of the season. It was one of few moments during the opener that the duo clicked the way the Rockets had hoped when they recruited Paul this summer.

After missing some good looks early, Harden reverted to his MVP-candidate form, consistently creating offense off the dribble. Paul, playing off the ball for significant stretches for the first time in his career, seemed to struggle to get in sync when paired with his fellow perennial All-Star guard. Paul has emphasized that he is "excited about the process" of learning how to best play with Harden, saying it would require patience from him.

Harden (27 points, 10 assists) carried the Rockets' offense, as he frequently has in the previous five years.

"I just wish I could have helped him out some more, you know what I mean?" Paul said. "But I've been saying it all along, it's cool. We're going to be fine. It's all about wins and losses for us, and we won tonight, so I'm cool."

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