The Los Angeles Clippers have blown two straight chances at advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Will Sunday afternoon’s third crack at history finally be the charm? Doc Rivers and co. will certainly have to hope so, as the Clippers blew a 19-point lead at home in game six and now head into Houston to try to take down the Rockets on the road.
Logic says the Clips may be in some serious trouble, as they’re on the road and have blown two games in a row with history on the line. Of course, of the two teams, L.A. has more experience in game sevens and just ousted the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in round one. Naturally, that series came down to an emphatic game seven, too. It even came down to the last shot of the series.
Los Angeles is battled tested and there’s something about the Rockets trying to win three games in a row that just seems improbable, but at this point neither conclusion feels impossible. With everything we’ve seen, it feels like all we can do is forget what we’ve already seen and judge these teams for one game, straight up. With that, let’s break down the final matchup of round two and see who advances to the Western Conference Finals:
Editor’s note: We now stand at 40-18 through these playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers (3) @ Houston Rockets (2) on ABC at 3:30 pm ET
There are two things to consider here. The Clippers displayed offensive dominance for most of this series and took a 3-1 lead. Their inability to close this series is just as telling, though, while Houston’s benched showed up in a big way in game six. The Rockets were dead and buried, yet they stormed back on the road and forced a huge game seven back on their home court.
The kicker? None of it happened due to James Harden (played one minute in the fourth quarter) and Dwight Howard (zero points in the final period). That’s impressive when you look at Houston’s bench, as Corey Brewer and Josh Smith both went nuts to close that game, but if their star players – who play the majority of the game – had little to do with it, it’s a bit skewed. It still makes the Rockets dangerous, but it was a comeback that seemed to come by accident.
That being said, it’s going to be awfully hard for the Clippers to go on the road and win such a big game. Then again, they survived not clinching their first round series and ended up winning that series. Houston also just won a massive road game, too, so logic suggests the Clippers could do the very same thing. Houston winning a third straight game is tough any way you look at it, as well.
All of that aside, the meat and potatoes of this matchup is two-fold: Houston’s defense is awful and they usually wear their emotions on their sleeve. You could also throw in the impact of both benches, as the Clippers bench was awesome in the first few games, and that table has completely turned. The story should be James Harden erupting or a battle of hack-aJordan or hack-a-Dwight. It should even be about Blake Griffin dominating or Chris Paul willing his Clippers to another round. But in reality, it’s going to be about the bench. If we look at this series, Houston’s bench really truly showed up for one game, and we’ve seen some really good play out of L.A. roles players for at least three games.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter how you think the Clippers can win. This is about two very good teams playing for a big prize – to get one series away from the NBA Finals. It’s also about proof in the pudding, as the Clips are 3-0 in game seven situations with their current group and they appear to have come a long way in terms of mental toughness. That, and winning three straight games against anyone in the NBA is awfully hard to do. I go forward with caution, but something tells me these Clippers won’t be denied and the third time will be the charm.
Pick: Clippers 109, Rockets 104