LOS ANGELES-Outmanned. Outgunned. Down by 19 points with little more than a quarter left in their season. The Houston Rockets looked every bit of a team on the brink of elimination from the playoffs as the Los Angeles Clippers and their fans at Staples Center smelled their first ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals. It was a premature whiff.
In the last 14 minutes and 46 seconds of Game 6 on their second round series against the Clippers, the Rockets changed the odor of Staples Center from celebratory to heartache. With two minutes and 46 seconds left on the clock in the third quarter, the Clippers was cruising along with a 19-point lead, wiping the floor with Houston players enroute to a 89-70 lead. Los Angeles was getting ready to party.
The Rockets became haters and blocked the fun from Clipper Nation. It’s Houston that is now doing all the celebrating and partying. The Clippers, well, they like to do things the hard way. And for 12 minutes, the Clippers also also found a way to forget how to play defense. Clipper Nation wished they hadn’t. The Rockets now have the upper hand in the series, storming back from a 19-point, third quarter deficit to upend the Clippers, 119-107, to push this see-saw battle to Game 7.
“We didn’t finish,” Chris Paul said afterward. “When we got that lead, we got comfortable. Coming out out of one of those timeouts, I told our guys to play more freely and with confidence. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out our way.”
The way things worked was that Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes scored a total of zero points in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the final period to make Game 7 an elimination game for both teams. The Rockets are feeling good about themselves. The Clippers, squandering a 3-1 series-leading advantage, didn’t have too much to say. The home team locker room was quiet on basically all fronts, as it should have been.
When you blow a 19-point lead-late, and at home, with the opportunity to close out a series to finally take the monkey off the franchise’s back of longtime apathetic achievement-there really isn’t going to be a whole lot to talk about. There should be anger. Lots of it. The Rockets finished Game 6 with six players in double-figures. The Clippers had only three hit that mark. In that horrid fourth quarter, the Clippers connected on just 4-of-22 shots from the field. The Clippers went through a stretch where they couldn’t buy a basket.
“I mean, it’s just not a good feeling, Griffin said. “It’s not an ideal situation to play in when you’re missing shots. Seemed like they were hitting everything.But we’ve got to do a better job of just making it tougher on them on the defensive end, when we’re playing defense. When the shots aren’t falling we’ve got to buckle down on defense and play better.”
Playing better on the defensive end is an understatement. The Clippers scored as many points in the final quarter as journeyman Corey Brewer did for the Rockets. That’s not acceptable. The Clippers were outscored by just two Houston players in the last 12 minutes of the game-Brewer (15 points) and Josh Smith (14 points). Wait a minute, say those names again? Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, not Dwight Howard and James Harden. Howard scored just one point in the period. Harden was a spectator the whole fourth quarter with zero minutes played.
No bench. No depth. That seemed to be the prevailing thought when the Clippers went on their 2015 postseason march. At the beginning of the NBA playoffs, some speculated that the Clippers wouldn’t even make it past the first round going up against the defending champions San Antonio Spurs because of their lack of depth. The Clippers gave way to those sentiments in Game 6 against the Rockets.
The Clippers got 16 points, four rebounds and three assists from their bench. On the flip side, the Rockets received 37 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists from their reserves. Brewer led the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Brewer and his cast of reserve buddies were so hot in that fourth quarter that Houston coach Kevin McHale didn’t find the need to run the Bearded One back into the game, even though he was tempted to do so.
“Yeah, I was thinking about putting him back in the game, but those guys earned the right to finish that game, one way or another,” McHale said. “After a while, he had sat there long enough and those guys had a rhythm and they kept getting stops and I’m like, ‘I’m just going to let them go.'”