Just a few days ago, I wrote about how the Los Angeles Clippers were creeping up on the Golden State Warriors as the title favorite. With the Warriors stuck in the mud against the grimy Memphis Grizzlies and the Clippers landing haymakers on the Houston Rockets, it certainly seemed like a legitimate claim at the time. Nobody was playing better basketball than Los Angeles.
How things can change.
The Clippers are now staring at the possibility of one of the bigger playoff collapses ever. Not only did Los Angeles lead Houston 3-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals, but the Clippers held a 19-point lead in the third quarter of Game 6. It was over. Done. The Rockets looked lifeless again and James Harden was in the midst of a truly horrific performance.
The margin was 13 points heading into the fourth quarter, and what followed was arguably the most stunning turnaround of these playoffs. Houston outscored Los Angeles 40-15 in the final frame to come away with a 119-107 victory to force a Game 7. The Rockets, the same team that was blown out by a Chris Paul-less Clippers team in Game 1 and subsequently embarrassed in Games 3 and 4, will have a chance to win a Game 7 on their home floor.
Smith and Brewer combined to go 5-for-7 from three in the 4th Q despite being a combined 4-for-30 in the first 23 quarters of the series.
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) May 15, 2015
Just as important as the hot outside shooting was the defense, which completely locked up a Clippers offense that mysteriously went stagnant after a brilliant first three quarters. Dwight Howard deserves a ton of credit for this, as Howard manned up on Blake Griffin and helped choke off driving lanes. Griffin and Paul combined to shoot 2-of-12 in the fourth quarter as Los Angeles shot 4-of-22 as a team and 2-of-9 from three.
By the time it was all over, the Staples Center crowd was in complete shock. Once in full control of this series, the weight of the world is on the Clippers as they go on the road for Game 7 in an attempt to reach their first ever Western Conference Finals.
The lights will be especially bright on Paul, who has been criticized (unfairly) for never reaching the Western Conference Finals. That first trip seemed inevitable only days ago, but if Paul struggles and the Clippers somehow blow this, the criticism, fair or unfair, will be at an all-time high.
This will be the second Game 7 of the playoffs already for Los Angeles, who of course dispatched the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the first round thanks to a Paul game-winner. We thought that series answered all of the questions about the Clippers’ mental fortitude, but now some of those questions are arising again after these last two defeats.
The Clippers, and Paul and Griffin specifically, are just too darn good to let this kind of epic collapse happen to them. At least you’d think so. But anything can happen in a Game 7, and if Los Angeles actually blows this thing, it’s going to be one painful offseason.