When the Los Angeles Clippers held a 19-point lead late in the third quarter of Thursday night’s Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, they probably weren’t planning on having to be in Houston this weekend. But with a 6:44 scoring drought to close out the game, the Clippers unwittingly forced a Game 7 and pushed their backs tightly against the wall.
Not only did the Clippers, a team that has redefined itself over the last five years, give up a big lead in Game 6, they also struggled to close out the series after grabbing a 3-1 lead. The Rockets, the NBA’s top three-point shooting team this season making 11.4 per game, outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter on the back of seven three-pointers, including three from Josh Smith. When the dust finally settled, the Rockets scored 34 points in the final nine minutes and held the Clippers to just 13.
Facing elimination, Houston’s center Dwight Howard said the Rockets never gave up.
“I said, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ But we pulled together. We just kept saying, ‘We’re not going to quit. We’re not going to give this up. We come too far just to end it like this.'”
Even when Houston still trailed the Clippers by double digits in the fourth quarter Thursday night, Coach Kevin McHale knew something good was happening.
“I could see it in their eyes. I could see that they caught a rhythm.”
The Clippers missed out on a few chances at closing out the series, but they have already faced a Game 7 this playoff season, having narrowly beaten the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Additionally, over the last few years, the Clippers have faced circumstances like this and aren’t panicking. In 2012, LA held a 3-1 series lead over the Grizzlies only to lose Games 5 and 6 before finally clinching the series in Memphis in Game 7. Forward Blake Griffin assured the media they knew how to handle the pressure.
“We’ve been in this situation.”
The Clippers, historically one of the NBA’s worst teams, have gone through a rejuvenation over the last few years. Despite a history of poor play and being dragged through the mud after former owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, the Clippers have continued to play well and become Los Angeles’ standout team.
The Clippers have had four straight winning seasons for the first time in their history. The 2012 and 2013 seasons marked the first time the team won back-to-back seasons since 1992 and 1993. For all their struggles since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have become one of the NBA’s best teams in the last five years.
But the Rockets, though not always spectacular, have consistently been a playoff team for most of their history. But having only made it out of the first round once since 1997, Houston certainly hasn’t been a powerhouse. Over the past two seasons, though, Houston has found a rhythm and finished in the top two of the Southwest Division each year. Thursday night’s game may have shifted some momentum in their favor, but the Rockets and Clippers both have a lot to play for on their road to redemption on Sunday.
[Image via ABC]