It looked like the least likely of the four semifinal playoff series to go seven games, but here we are, with the Houston Rockets having a golden opportunity at home to knock Chris Paul and his Los Angeles Clippers out of the postseason.
Perhaps it would be the most Clipper-thing to do, to waste this opportunity away after what looked to be a clear path to the Western Conference Finals with a 19-point lead over Houston in the third quarter of Game 6.
Paul, nor the Clippers, has ever been to the conference finals. The narrative was so close to being re-written that myself, and surely others, went to bed before the Rockets went on a 24-2 run and outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter. The Rockets overcame enormous odds to pull out the 119-107 victory in Los Angeles.
The run that saved Houston’s season was done without Dwight Howard making a field goal and MVP runner-up James Harden even making an appearance. There was a 97.7 percent chance the Rockets would lose this game when Harden missed a layup down 89-70 with two minutes left in the third quarter, according to stats.inpredictable.com.
The Clippers have been the better team in the series, as sometimes Houston, who was eighth in defensive rating during the regular season, just cannot stop the most efficient offense in the NBA. But in the fourth quarter of the Clippers’ most important game in franchise history, the whole team got stagnant and didn’t want to shoot.
Paul scored a layup with seven minutes left and the Clippers didn’t score again until the final minute. Blake Griffin, who has been a source of well-deserved credit the past few weeks, crumbled under pressure, going 0-5 in the fourth quarter. The team shot 2-9 from three in the fourth and 4-22 overall from the field.
The Rockets stormed back with an uber-defensive lineup of Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith and Howard. Brewer relentlessly attacked the rim and Smith, yes, that Josh Smith, shot 3-4 from three in the fourth quarter to bring the Rockets back. Meanwhile, all Harden could do was cheer from the bench while not returning in the fourth thanks to the flu and some woeful shooting. (5-20 from the field)
So now, the Clippers, who went on the road to force a Game 7 against the Spurs in Round 1, will have to travel to Houston for yet another Game 7. 14 playoff games in only two rounds sure can’t bode well with the Clippers’ lack of depth. How will they handle the mental and physical exhaustion in preparation for what now is their most important game in the history of the franchise?
This Game 7 is a legacy game for CP3, and if he lets this series slip away, it’ll be a long offseason in Los Angeles. The core of Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might never get so close again. Up 3-1 in the series, the team had full control and had nearly swept away the Rockets, with only a narrow Game 2 loss stopping that from happening.
The Clippers even survived CP3’s injured hamstring, winning Game 1 in Houston without him thanks to a gutsy performance from Griffin. Now the team is trying to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season in a raucous environment of a Game 7 on the road.
At this point, how each team got to this point is irrelevant. It all comes down to this one game, with 48 minutes of playoff basketball between two of the best teams in the league. Who will step up? Who will shrivel into little pieces? It’ll all be determined at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, in each team’s biggest game of their season.