The Clippers were up 12 points at the time that I walked from my seat at the upper press box to the elevator to head down to the Chick Hearn Press Room with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. By the time I sat down by one of the many tables with a stack of stats by my right hand and a cup of freshly poured coffee in my left hand, the game was tied. As I watched the reminder of the game on the center television in disbelief, the Rockets went on to win 119-107 in unprecedented fashion to set up an unprecedented Game 7 on Sunday.
This Clipper choke job is quite possibly the most mind-boggling of all choke jobs and comes with almost an apocalyptic feeling, considering the team who they gave Thursday‚Äôs game away to. Going back as far as their inaugural year in 1967 when they played in San Diego ‚Äì like the Clippers — the Rockets had never won a playoff game when trailing by 10 points entering the fourth quarter (0-49). Yet somehow, the Clippers allowed them to go from 19 down with 2:27 left in the third quarter to winning by 12 points at the end.
“We gave this one away,” Doc Rivers said on the Clippers choke job. “There‚Äôs no doubt about that, all right.”
You know this was a choke job when the loser admits it and the team that is the beneficiary screams out hallelujah since there are no other sensible explanations to what transpired in the last quarter of Game 6.
“Just thank God, man,” Rockets star center Dwight Howard said, “because, you know, there were times where it just seemed like everything was going their way. Blake [Griffin] hit 360, 180, I don‚Äôt know what it was, and I said, ‚Äòman, this is crazy‚Äô. But we pulled together, we just kept saying ‚Äòwe‚Äôre not going to quit, we‚Äôre not going give up, we didn‚Äôt come too far just to end it like this,‚Äô and we just kept fighting. Just thank God for this victory because we wouldn‚Äôt have done it without His help.”
“God has been grateful to this team and we just feel like we’re a blessed unit and we can do something special,” Rockets small forward Josh Smith said.
For a team that has a national reputation of being horrid on defense despite being one of the more offensively gifted teams out there in the league, the Rockets seemed to have turned on a dime defensively during their fourth quarter run. However, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan admitted that they got their shots in, they just never went in. The offense was still able to move the ball around and get the right shot in, just not in the basket.
Smith and Corey Brewer, who combined for 29 points while the Rockets outscored them 40-15 in the fourth quarter, killed the Clippers. A fourth quarter in which one Rockets star scored only one point and the other, James Harden, was reduced to being a cheerleader.
“Yeah, I was thinking about putting [Harden] back in the game,” Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said, “but those guys earned the right to finish that game, one way or the other.¬† After a while, he had sat there long enough and those guys had a good rhythm and they kept getting stops and I’m like, I’m just going to let them go.¬† Hey, James got a lot of rest, so on Sunday he’ll be ready to come out and rock and roll for us.”
How this Game 7 has come about is unprecedented simply how this series played out. With Chris Paul out nursing a strained hamstring the Clippers basically played Games 1 and 2 with their right hand tied behind their back and split the series. Then with Austin Rivers‚Äô coming of age like performances, the Clippers broke the Rockets‚Äô backs in Games 3 and 4.
Or so we thought. Game 5 resulted in a 21-point defeat for the Clippers but that on its own could be filed under mailing it in and waiting for Game 6. After what happened on Thursday, what excuse do the Clippers have now?
It has been known for the longest time that if there was ever a team that could not afford the embarrassment of losing a series after being up 3-1, it was the Clippers, LA‚Äôs red headed stepchild of an NBA franchise. It absolutely looked like it took the world and all its shamans to exorcise the demon that is Donald Sterling. Just before anyone could even begin to possibly worry about the “devil you know” concept, Steve Ballmer entered the fray as the former Microsoft CEO who sounds like John C. Riley and looks like Dr. Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog, and even though Ballmer turned out to be just the owner this franchise and this city needed, a loss on Sunday will negate any goodwill that they have spent years building up to this point.
DeAndre Jordan‚Äôs impending free agency is looming and with rumors of Chris Paul‚Äôs leadership methods wearing thin on him and even Blake Griffin, Game 7 on Sunday will do or die because if they lose, as Stephen A. Smith would say, “not only is this series over, everything is over” for the Clippers.
Tony Capobianco started the SMDP column “Cap Space” just in time for the 2014-15 Clippers season. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.