Clippers get a second chance to close out the Rockets

Clippers get a second chance to close out the Rockets
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul walk off the court during a timeout in Game 5 of the Clippers' second round playoff series against the Houston Rockets. (David Phillip / Associated Press)

There are victories in the NBA playoffs and there are closeout victories.

They are not created equally.


The latter can be particularly tricky because the team on the verge of locker clean-out tends to play like it's desperate to have its uniforms laundered and hung for reuse.

Meanwhile, the team on the cusp of advancing can imperil its future by prematurely focusing on an opponent to be named later.

The Clippers got whacked by the closeout conundrum Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals in Houston, failing to finish off the Rockets during a 124-103 defeat that was every bit as unsightly as the score indicated.

The upside for the Clippers is that they get two more chances to fashion a happy ending to a best-of-seven series they lead, 3-2, starting with Game 6 on Thursday night at Staples Center.

"Thursday at 7:30," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said after his team failed to show up in Game 5, "all that goes out the window and we have a chance to take care of business and play how we need to play."

Griffin and star teammates Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan are still learning the art of the closeout. They have gone 3-4 in playoff games in which a win would have propelled them into the next round, notching memorable Game 7 first-round victories over the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012, the Golden State Warriors in 2014 and the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month.

They also missed three previous opportunities to close out a series, losing twice to Memphis in 2012 and once to Golden State in 2014.

Then came their setback Tuesday against Houston, when the Clippers were obliterated in almost every category, including points in the paint (64-46), fastbreak points (17-3) and rebounds (58-39).

"We kind of played like we had a couple of bullets in the chamber, that we had a safety net that we could go home and try to finish them, and we can't have that kind of mentality," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said afterward. "We've got to do a better job of having that killer mentality. This is new for this team and something we've got to continue to work on, but we'll be better at home."

The Clippers have won four of six games this postseason at Staples Center, including 25- and 33-point shellackings of the Rockets in this series.

There was mixed news on the injury front as the Clippers returned home Wednesday.

Paul's minutes restriction because of his strained left hamstring has been lifted, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said, but guard Austin Rivers has a hip pointer, forward Glen Davis is still bothered by a sore ankle and Barnes is dealing with ankle and shoulder issues. All are expected to play.

There is some sentiment that the Clippers need to treat Game 6 like it's Game 7 because of teams' abysmal success rates on the road in the final game of a series that goes the distance.

Road teams are 24-95 in Game 7s in NBA playoff history, so the Clippers will need to win Thursday to avoid the possibility of a complete collapse.


"No one wants to put themselves in that position," Griffin said.

Doc Rivers spent part of a conference call with reporters Wednesday spelling out the difficulties of closing out playoff series. He mentioned the tendency of the trailing team to play better and, conversely, the inclination of the team with the series edge to lack urgency.

His final point was that games between evenly matched teams can be decided by which team plays the hardest. That certainly wasn't the Clippers in Game 5.

"We still have two more chances," shooting guard J.J. Redick said afterward. "We've been great about not losing sight of the process and Doc has preached that, even since last year. We've been good about that, so I'm disappointed about [Tuesday] but I expect us to play harder and better on Thursday."

Twitter: @latbbolch