After being down 3-1, Rockets can reach West finals the hard way

Rockets could become the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit

It has come down to this.

The winner of Game 7 between the Houston Rockets and Clippers will advance to the Western Conference finals, and the loser will be haunted all summer thinking about what could have been.

The path the Rockets took to get here was unsettling, but they stayed the course when they were down 3-1 in the best-of-seven second-round series and when they trailed by 19 points Thursday in an elimination game in Los Angeles.

Houston withstood it all to tie the series at 3-3 and is in position to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1997, where it would face the Golden State Warriors.

"Nothing is going to be given to us," Dwight Howard said after the Rockets practiced Saturday. "We've got to take it, and this is an opportunity in front of us to go take it. To come back from 3-1, win two games in a row and force a Game 7, that's nothing but God. We've got to take this blessing and try to run with it."

The series has given mental anguish to both teams.

Houston lost Game 3 by 25 points, Game 4 by 33, and yet has an opportunity to become just the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series.

The Clippers are staring at the wrong side of history, blowing two chances to close out the series, blowing their 3-1 lead in the series and blowing a big lead in the sixth game.

"There's going to be adversity," Houston Coach Kevin McHale said. "They're not going to lay down. We're not going to lay down. We just got to go fight. It's a matter of who does what they do better."

The home team has won Game 7 of the NBA playoffs 80% of the time, but the Rockets refused to take comfort in a sense of security just because this Game 7 is at Toyota Center on Sunday.

"It's cool to have it here," Trevor Ariza said. "But, again, that's not going to win us the game. What's going to win us the game is us being locked in to what we're doing."

The Rockets and Clippers had been playing every other day in the series, testing their endurance.

But they took two days off between Games 6 and 7, neither team practicing Friday before going back to work Saturday to prepare for the biggest game of this series, of their season.

The time off was opportune for James Harden because it allowed him to recover from the flu that affected him in the last two games.

"That little extra day helped me relax, get my body right and get my sickness away a little bit," Harden said. "Like I said, it's all or nothing" on Sunday.

The Rockets will need Howard to remain composed to improve their chances of winning.

He has three technical fouls, one ejection and one flagrant foul in the series.

"Sometimes I let the emotions get the best of me," Howard said. "But I just want to win. That's my only goal. Whatever you put in, that's what you're going to get out. It's either win or go home, and I'm not ready to go on vacation."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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