Clippers need a Doc who can shrink the Game 7 task ahead

Clippers' psychological approach is a question as they prepare for Game 7 at Houston

Doc Rivers may informally add another line to his job description in the next 48 hours.

In addition to being the Clippers' coach and president of basketball operations, Rivers could become chief psychologist for a team in need of emotional support after the most deflating sequence in the history of a franchise intimately familiar with disappointment.

The Clippers sunk to their lowest low from what should have been their greatest triumph, blowing a 19-point lead in the final 14 1/2 minutes of Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on Thursday night at Staples Center.

Not even Lawler's Law — first team to 100 points wins — with an accompanying 12-point cushion could save the Clippers during an unthinkable 119-107 defeat against the Houston Rockets.

Rivers seemed unsure how to handle his team after the Rockets closed the game on a 31-7 run to force a deciding Game 7 on Sunday in Houston. The coach said his players would gather to watch film on a damp, dreary Friday that probably mirrored their mood, but he didn't know whether they would they focus on the collapse or disregard it altogether.

"We probably could put it on at the third [quarter]," Rivers said late Thursday night, "or we may choose to watch the first three and ignore the fourth."

Ironically, things started to go haywire for the Clippers shortly after Lakers star Kobe Bryant sent out a complimentary tweet in the wake of Blake Griffin's spinning, over-the-shoulder layup that gave the Clippers an 18-point lead late in the third quarter.

"The game of @blakegriffin32 has grown tremendously #respect," Bryant tweeted.

The decibel level peaked when point guard Chris Paul made a reverse layup to put the Clippers ahead, 89-70, with 2:35 left in the third quarter. At that point, the algorithms of Numberfire.com gave the Clippers a 94.71% chance of winning a game that would have pushed them into the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

Even with a mini-surge by the Rockets, the Clippers were still ahead, 100-88, after an old-fashioned three-point play by reserve guard Austin Rivers with 7:38 left in the game. That's when the Clippers started to play the equivalent of a prevent offense, hesitant to shoot and increasingly unsure of themselves after their offense began to stall.

"We got very tentative offensively," Doc Rivers said. "Very few people even wanted to shoot in stretches."

The Clippers went 6:45 without a field goal after Paul's driving layup with 6:47 left gave them a 102-94 lead. A flurry of baskets by Josh Smith and Corey Brewer bolstered Houston's confidence while the Clippers' defense experienced a Rockets-fueled reverse in intensity.

"Our defense is our backbone," Paul said, "and we did not execute in the fourth quarter."

By the time Smith made his third three-pointer of the quarter, the Rockets were up, 111-102, and much of the fast-departing crowd was spilling onto Figueroa Street. Griffin missed all five of his shots in the quarter and went scoreless after collecting 28 points through the first three quarters.

When it was over, Houston had outscored the Clippers, 40-15, in one of the most bizarre quarters in NBA playoff history.

"When you give up 40 points," Doc Rivers said, "you've stopped playing, clearly."

The Clippers have arguably outplayed the Rockets in 17 of 24 quarters in a series that's somehow tied. You can give the Rockets the final 1 1/2 quarters of Game 2, all four quarters of Game 5 and the final 1 1/2 quarters of Game 6. Everything else has belonged to the Clippers … except the series lead.

The odds do not favor a Clippers revival Sunday at Toyota Center after dropping back-to-back games in the series. Road teams are 24-95 in Game 7s in NBA playoff history.

Then again, the Rockets are attempting to become only the ninth team in league history and the first since the Phoenix Suns in 2006 to complete a comeback from a 3-1 deficit.

The Clippers' silver linings playbook also includes this: They have won every playoff series victory involving the Paul-Griffin-DeAndre Jordan trio that has reached a Game 7, beating Memphis in 2012, Golden State in 2014 and San Antonio earlier this month. The victory over the Grizzlies came on the road and the other two at home.

Of course, this is a different challenge, given the mental strain of what just happened.

"It's hard today," Rivers said late Thursday night. "It'll be hard probably [Friday], but by the time we lace it up, they'll be ready to play. You have no choice."

Rivers is familiar with the burden of bouncing back from colossal playoff collapses, his Clippers losing a seven-point lead in the final 49.2 seconds of a Game 5 loss in the conference semifinals last season against Oklahoma City. The Thunder came to Los Angeles two days later and finished off the Clippers in a series-clinching Game 6.

Rivers said his players wanted to close out the Rockets so bad on Thursday that they couldn't think straight. The Clippers will try to refocus on Sunday, Doc's orders.

"That's my job," Rivers said. "I've got to try to get them through it, and I see that for sure."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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