After Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinal series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead and looked in total control. The only main weakness the squad had was inconsistent production outside of its two big stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
As it turned out, that lack of depth ultimately doomed Los Angeles.
In Sunday’s Game 7, the Rockets won their third straight contest by a score of 113-100 to complete a type of series comeback that isn’t too common in NBA history.
Rockets go from brink of elimination to Western Conference Finals
9th team to overcome 3-1 deficit in best-of-7 pic.twitter.com/vmmHS7BMPQ
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2015
Not surprisingly, the Clippers’ poor offensive balance was once again on display in Game 7. Paul and Griffin combined for 53 points on 22-of-43 shooting with 16 rebounds and 16 assists. The rest of the team could only muster 47 points on 19-of-49 shooting with 32 rebounds and seven assists, failing to provide efficient relief for their talented teammates.
By the second half, the two Los Angeles stars looked worn down from the heavy burden they had to carry all series, as well as from their first-round battle royale against the San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers did trim a 20-point deficit to eight in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but that was with the Rockets essentially playing a “prevent” offense to avoid a collapse similar to what the Clippers did in Game 6.
The Rockets, meanwhile, looked fresh all game long.
James Harden and Dwight Howard, Houston’s two best players, were solid. They combined for 47 points on 15-of-28 shooting, 22 rebounds and 10 assists. But, just like Games 5 and 6, it was the other guys who did the most important damage.
Trevor Ariza had 22 points (6-of-12 from downtown), seven boards and three assists. Josh Smith had 15 points. And Pablo Prigioni stole the show in the third quarter with numerous hustle plays to stretch the Rockets’ lead:
Prigioni chipped in a total of four points, four assists and three steals, but his team-best plus-minus of +20 in only 20 minutes paints a more accurate picture of his impact. ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy even opined that the point guard was deserving of the game ball at one point in the contest.
The Rockets will now be on to the Western Conference Finals to face the No. 1-seeded Golden State Warriors, where they’ll be met with their toughest challenge of the postseason thus far.
For the Clippers, however, it’s back to the drawing board.
Paul and Griffin absolutely need more help if Los Angeles is going to be able to withstand four playoff rounds against tough competition. DeAndre Jordan is an unrestricted free agent, and many teams will undoubtedly throw fat contract offers at the athletic big man.
J.J. Redick has developed into a solid two-way shooting guard, but he has to be more consistent from game to game. Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes are quality veterans, but they’re getting up there in years and are on the downsides of their careers. Austin Rivers could develop into something useful, but he’s also painfully inconsistent.
So there are a lot of “buts” with the Clippers. One thing is clear, however: Los Angeles can’t stand pat this summer if they want to be legitimate title contenders moving forward.
But, for now, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the entertaining conference final series we undoubtedly have waiting for us.