I never thought I’d see it again, but it’s true: Clutch City is alive and well.
No one thought the Houston Rockets were capable of this after the ugliness of Game 4, but they shocked the world again. The Rockets capped a historic comeback, taking a third straight game with their backs to the wall, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 113-100 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
James Harden scored 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds while Trevor Ariza (22 points) hit 6-12 from beyond the arc. Dwight Howard added 15 points and 16 boards, Josh Smith scored 15 and Corey Brewer popped in 11 off the bench.
The Rockets become only the ninth team in NBA history to win a series after being down 3-1. It’s the second time in franchise history as the Rockets beat the Phoenix Suns in the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals after trailing 3-1.
The Rockets will play in the West Finals for the first time since 1997. They will take on MVP Stephen Curry and the top-seeded Golden State Warriors (67-15), with the series kicking off in Oakland.
We will be posting a podcast from the incredible scene at the Toyota Center later tonight.
I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. Like so many of you who stayed up to watch it, I’m still in stunned disbelief.
This was the greatest comeback in a single game I’ve ever seen from the Houston Rockets.
I know what that means. I watched this franchise bounce back from 20 points down to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals twenty years ago, but that was a first-half deficit with several more games guaranteed to follow. For these Rockets, there was no tomorrow.
To understand how great this comeback was, you have to first understand how truly behind they were. In the third quarter, the Rockets had one of those game-killing periods that they’ve coughed up far too many times in this series. They shot 5-25 from the field. They were 1-8 from three-point range. They had James Harden missing 15 of his 20 shots on the night. They were on life support. A two-point deficit at half had ballooned to nineteen with just over two minutes remaining in the quarter and, frankly, it looked iffy that the Rockets could even score nineteen the rest of the way.
This game, this series, this season looked over.
“We never quit,” said Dwight Howard, who scored 20 points and grabbed 21 rebounds. “We kept believing. There were some rough times out there, but as a team, we never gave up on each other.”
It started with Terrence Jones, who was less than 15 minutes away from a team exit interview that would include the word “layups” at least 146 times. Struggling all series, Jones awoke, scoring seven points in the final 2:48 of the third quarter to help the Rockets cut this thing to thirteen.
The Rockets, who have been blasted, belittled and buried by media and NBA fans as a team with no heart, then found their mettle. They outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter… in a road elimination game. Houston was 5-20 from three-point range before connecting on 8 of their final 12 triples. They held the NBA’s top-rated offense to 4-22 shooting.
Kevin McHale deserves a mountain of credit. Houston’s coach sat Harden most of the fourth because he found a lineup that was thriving — and he stuck with it while many were criticizing him for not putting the MVP runner-up back into the game.
“Those guys earned the right to finish that game, one way or the other,” said McHale.
In the fourth quarter alone, Brewer scored 15 of his 19 points and Smith scored 14 of his 19. Heading into that quarter, the two were a combined 4-30 (13.3%) from three-point range in the series, but they connected on 5 of 7 in the final 12 minutes. Blake Griffin was a sizzling 12-15 for 28 points, but Smith and Howard joined forces to hold Griffin scoreless on 0-5 shooting in the fourth.
The Headband of Brothers got help as well. Howard was a beast in the middle. Jason Terry knocked down big shots. Trevor Ariza worked defensive rotations masterfully.
Before Game 5, the Rockets did not properly represent at all in this series the quality of team they were this season. That was the fear, that down 3-1, they would simply fold in a manner that would leave the impression of a massive gap between the two teams, that Houston didn’t belong on the same court with these guys. They refused to do that.
My wife will wake up soon and I’ll have to deliver the bad news — the vacation plans are on hold. There will be a Game 7 in Houston. I don’t know how that game will end, but I know what this victory means to this team, win or lose on Sunday. These Rockets were destroyed all series for being quitters. Forget that. They’ve got fight.
Fighting an illness all day with his team’s playoff hopes on life support, James Harden did more than just play through it Tuesday night.
Harden posted his first career playoff triple double, scoring 26 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing 10 assists as the Rockets staved off elimination with a 124-103 Game 5 trouncing of the Clippers at the Toyota Center.
“He had a hell of a game,” said Kevin McHale of Harden. “He had an IV this afternoon and he played a great game for us and we needed it.”
The Rockets are down 3-2 in the series with a crucial Game 6 set for Thursday in Los Angeles. MK Bower joins Clutch to discuss the ugly showings in L.A., Harden’s performance in Game 5, the coaching adjustments, Clint freakin’ Capela and what’s on deck at the Staples Center.
Playing on five full days of rest and facing a tired team without its star point guard, the Rockets seemed to roll over and die in Game 1, matching a season-high with 24 turnovers and getting outscored by 29 points in the final 31+ minutes of the game to fall 117-101.
MK Bower joins me at the arena to try to make sense of the nightmare.
The Houston Rockets finally know who their second round opponent will be.
The Rockets will face Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals after the Clippers finished off the Spurs in seven games Saturday night. Game One starts this Monday, May 4th, at 8:30 PM at the Toyota Center.
The Rockets and Clippers have the same record but the Rockets have home court advantage by virtue of the division winner tiebreaker.
The Rockets were 2-2 against the Clippers this season. The good news for Houston is Dwight Howard did not play in any of those games. James Harden was held under his scoring average in the four games, posting 20.0 points on just 35.8 percent shooting.