With 2:34 left in the third quarter of Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Los Angeles Clippers led the Houston Rockets 89-70 and the series 3-2. Playing at home, the Clippers were in the midst of an extended 36-12 run, the Rockets were ice-cold from everywhere and Los Angeles could do no wrong, especially Blake Griffin:
The game and series were pretty much over.
Until they weren’t.
In the waning minutes of the third quarter, Houston suddenly upped its energy level from “we didn’t expect to win this game anyway” to “first-grader accidentally given five cups of coffee.” The Rockets flew around and bothered every single Clipper pass, contested each one of Los Angeles’ shots and attacked the rim with abandon.
They kept doing it, too—on every possession in the final 14 minutes of game time.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Houston had silenced the Staples Center crowd with a 119-107 victory. For those of you keeping score at home, the Rockets finished the game on a 49-15 run, not including a meaningless Chris Paul three to beat the final horn.
Who spearheaded Houston’s season-saving charge? No, it wasn’t the team’s MVP candidate, James Harden. He was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, presumably because of two reasons: his bad shooting (5-of-20 on Thursday night) and flu symptoms.
It wasn’t the Rockets’ second star, Dwight Howard, either, although he did play stellar defense down the stretch and finished with a gaudy 20-point, 21-rebound stat line.
Rockets head coach Kevin McHale started Smith ahead of Terrence Jones for the second straight contest in Game 6 in hopes that he’d be able to contain Griffin. Initially, it didn’t work, as the Clippers star forward had 22 points at halftime and looked poised for many more after the intermission.
But boy, did it work out in the fourth quarter.
J-Smoove unleashed his remarkable all-around skill set on the Clippers in the final frame to the tune of 14 points (on 4-of-5 shooting and 3-of-4 behind the arc), two rebounds, one assist and one block. That stat line doesn’t do justice to the fear he instilled in the Los Angeles penetrators’ hearts with his interior defense. Not surprisingly, Blake finished with only six points in the second half:
Brewer was just as good. He had 15 points (on 5-of-8 shooting) with five rebounds in the final period, wreaking havoc on both ends of the court with his general friskiness. Sometimes, his relentless energy can be too much, but it was perfect for this particular comeback.
For the Clippers, they’re still struggling to get anyone besides Griffin and Paul going. The two combined for 59 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists on Thursday while shooting 22-of-39 from the field. The other seven guys who played for Los Angeles posted a total of 48 points, 26 boards and six assists on 16-of-52 shooting.
Heading into the decisive Game 7, will the Clippers have the depth to defeat a Rockets squad energized by its home crowd and the mental edge acquired from its legendary comeback?
Tune in on Sunday night (time and television network TBD) and find out.