The Los Angeles Clippers had a commanding lead of the series against the Houston Rockets, but blew it in a 100-113 Game 7 loss.
There’s an old saying that goes “to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” Well, the Los Angeles Clippers did that in the first round of the playoffs by defeating the defending champions San Antonio Spurs in Game 7. It’s a shame Ric Flair didn’t provide any instructions on what to do after. Otherwise, the Clippers would have found a way to defeat the Houston Rockets.
Instead, what was once a formidable 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets—one of those wins were without starting guard Chris Paul—became a disaster of catastrophic proportions that peaked in Game 7.
With the home crowd ecstatic, the Houston Rockets used their momentum to gain the lead early in the first quarter. Trevor Ariza was the first to score, draining a three. J.J. Redick returned the favor by countering with a three-pointer of his own. But after that the heroics of Josh Smith, the same heroics that propelled the Rockets to the 40-15 fourth quarter-run, and seven quick James Harden points, the Rockets were well on their way to a victory.
But even though Houston had a commanding lead to start the game, there was still a glimmer of hope permeating for the Clippers. After all, it’s fairly difficult to lose a series when you’re up 3-1. The last time that happened was in 2006 when the Phoenix Suns came back and defeated, coincidentally, the other Los Angeles team in the Lakers. Plus, history has been on the Clippers’ side when it comes to crucial Game 7s. The Chris Paul-led Clippers had, prior to this series, been in three Game 7s. One was at Memphis in 2012, the other was at home against Golden State last year, and the final game took place this year against the San Antonio Spurs. All were victories.
And despite the Rockets’ high shooting percentage throughout the first half, the Clippers were inexplicably still in the game. The Clippers did grab 11 more offensive rebounds than the Rockets, 15 to 4, but that didn’t help Los Angeles much as they were unable to take advantage by getting second-chance points. Instead, the offensive rebounds seemed to prolong the inevitably 20-point lead. The Clippers were perpetually within 10 throughout most of the game. The Clippers got as close to three points with the help of a J.J. Redick layup in the middle of the second quarter but, like clockwork, the Rockets continued to deliver an array of offensive runs to widen the gap between them and the stumbling Clippers.
Offensively, the Clippers were a confounded mess. While the likes of Matt Barnes and Austin Rivers became the driving force behind all Clippers wins up to this point, they were nowhere to be found in the final game of the series. The two were collectively limited to six field goal attempts, of which Rivers manage to score one early in the first. Jamal Crawford, another integral piece from the Clippers’ bench who has noticeably been in a rut as of late, did manage to score in this game, though much of his 17 points were the results of volume shooting. When taking into consideration his 6-18 field goal shooting, it’s no wonder that the Clippers lost.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are expected to do their part on a nightly basis, which they did on Sunday with 27 and 26 points respectively, but any chances of the Clippers winning the game ended when their bench failed to produce in turn. The Clippers’ ability to defeat the defending champions in the first round, but somehow squander a 3-1 series lead was obnoxiously perplexing. It’s evident that the Clippers had the capacity to make the Western Conference Finals, but for some reason or another, though mostly due to their inconsistent production off the bench, looked to be in a state of constant disarray.
The Rockets, on the other hand, were in perfect harmony. James Harden finally took over the game the way he typically does—at the free-throw line. In Game 7, Harden went 15-18 from the charity stripe and ended the game with 31 total points to go along with 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Dwight Howard followed suit with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
The unsung hero of the game was undeniably Trevor Ariza. Ariza was never Houston’s first choice in free agency. After all, he was Houston’s third option behind Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons, but he nevertheless showed his worth on Sunday by draining 50% of this three-pointers and going 6-12. It’s playoff performances like that which make a struggling team on its way out of the playoffs into a contending one, now looking forward to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
The Clippers are now out of the playoffs though much to the chagrin of basketball fans everywhere, they will maintain their underdog facade for at least another year. The Houston Rockets don’t have much time to celebrate, as their first game against the Warriors will be on Tuesday at 6:00pm at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.