The Clippers will play the Houston Rockets on Sunday in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series at Toyota Center. If the Clippers win, they will advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in their 45-year franchise history. If they lose, it will be yet another disappointing end to a Clippers season.
The Clippers had a 3-1 series lead before losing two games in a row to the Rockets. In Houston's 119-107 win in Game 6 on Thursday, the Rockets overcame a 19-point deficit by outscoring the Clippers in the fourth quarter, 40-15.
"We let up," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Saturday. "You could see it. We got the lead and kind of got comfortable and started making plays that you shouldn't make."
Rivers said the Clippers watched film of their fourth-quarter collapse, and that the game is behind them now.
"We realize what we have in front of us, so there's no time to keep hanging our heads," said Blake Griffin, who finished with 28 points in Game 6, though he was scoreless in the fourth quarter. "[Sunday] we have to be ready to go."
Nearly 80% of home teams win Game 7s in NBA playoff series. But the Clippers have been a good road team this year, winning a franchise-best 26 away games and beating the Rockets in Game 1 in Houston.
"Game 7s are kind of the ultimate player game and it just comes down to being better, and outplaying, outworking, outhustling, all of those things," Griffin said.
The Clippers' Big three — Chris Paul, Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan — have had quite a bit of Game 7 experience together. This will be the Clippers' second Game 7 of these playoffs, and their fourth Game 7 in the last three years.
They won each of those games, having Game 7 victories in the first round over Memphis in 2012 (on the road), Golden State in 2014 (at home) and San Antonio earlier this month (at home).
Paul, however, said the Clippers can't draw too much upon their past Game 7 experience.
"This game will take on a personality of itself," Paul said. "We just got to come out ready to play."
Below is a breakdown of the team's six games leading up to Sunday, though Paul pointed out that everything that preceded Game 7 is all water under the bridge at this point.
"Everything that happened up until [Sunday] really doesn't mean much," Paul said.
They Clippers pulled off the win even though were playing without Paul, who was sidelined because of a strained left hamstring. And they did it against a Rockets team that had six days of rest, while the Clippers were fresh off a Game 7 win over the Spurs that had 31 lead changes.
The Rockets trailed the Clippers by one-point, 89-88, with 7 minutes, 20 seconds left. The Clippers then exploded for a 12-0 run and went on to lead by as many as 18 points in the final minute.
The Rockets were sent to the free-throw line a whopping 64 times and made 42 of those shots. The Clippers shot half as many free throws (32), making 25 of them. The Rockets also outrebounded the Clippers, 54-40.
The Rockets led by 12 points before the Clippers went on a 10-2 run to cut their deficit to four points, 111-107, with one minute left after Jamal Crawford made two free throws.
With 16.1 seconds left, Dwight Howard made two free throws to give the Rockets a six-point lead, 113-107. DeAndre Jordan answered with a dunk on an inbounds play with 15.5 seconds left to cut the Clippers' deficit back to four, 113-109. James Harden made two free throws with 13.3 seconds left to give the Rockets the six-point win.
In Chris Paul's series debut, reserve point guard Austin Rivers stole the show coming off the bench to score 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting in 23 minutes. Rivers equaled the number of points scored by the Rockets reserves.
Rivers took control late in the third quarter, scoring 15 points in the final four minutes as the Clippers went on a 20-3 run to take a 23-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Clippers pushed their lead to as many as 32 points halfway through the fourth quarter.
The Rockets led by as many as eight points in the first quarter. It was downhill from there. They were outscored in the second half, 68-41.The Clippers outscored the Rockets, 43-25, in the third quarter to lead by as many as 28 points. They pushed that advantage to as much as 37 points in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets sent the Clippers to the free-throw line 63 times. The Clippers made 37 of those shots. DeAndre Jordan alone outshot the entire Rockets team from the free-throw line, 34-30. The Clippers' center made 14 of those attempts.
The Rockets went on a 20-2 run extending from the end of the second quarter to the top of the third quarter to take a 20-point lead.
The Clippers cut their deficit to 12 points at the top of the fourth quarter, but the Rockets regained control and went up by 20 points with just over 8 minutes left. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers waived the white flag with 3 minutes and 43 seconds left and the Clippers down by 17 points, subbing out the team's starters.
It looked as though the Clippers had the game in the bank after outscoring the Rockets in the third quarter, 28-17.