The game, and perhaps even the season, was slipping away from the
They were forced to dig deep in Game 2 and find that energy they were missing in the Western Conference semifinals against the
The Rockets finally produced a surge they so badly needed, using the energy from their two stars,
Harden's 32 points and Howard's 24 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots were the impetus for helping the Rockets even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
The Rockets didn't help themselves by getting down by 13 points early in the third quarter, their energy waning.
They didn't help themselves by giving up 41 points to the Clippers in the second quarter, their defense nowhere to be found.
And they didn't help themselves by getting destroyed in the first half by Blake Griffin, who had his way with 26 points in the first 24 minutes.
But with the Rockets staring at going back to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center in a bad way, they picked up their intensity and pulled out a game they had to win.
"Our energy level picked up," Rockets Coach
Their defense was the key, the Rockets holding the Clippers to 44 points on 36.6% shooting in the second half. Howard took the challenge of defending Griffin, doing his part to hold the Clippers forward to eight second-half points.
Their work on the backboards was tremendous, the Rockets outrebounding the Clippers, 54-40, with 15 on the offensive end.
But it was the play of Harden, who was 15 for 15 from the free-throw line, and Howard, who was eight for 21 from the line, that clinched the game for the Rockets in the end.
Harden's driving layup gave the Rockets a 111-105 lead with 1:11 left.
Howard's surprisingly two clutch free throws gave the Rockets a 113-107 lead with 16.1 seconds left.
Then Harden's two clutch free throws gave the Rockets a 115-109 lead with 13.3 seconds left.
Howard finished off the game doing what he does best, blocking a shot by Jamal Crawford — even though the Rockets center missed the two free throws after he was fouled.
The Rockets didn't have to deal with the Clippers' orchestrator, Chris Paul, for the second straight playoff game because the point guard is dealing with a strained left hamstring.
But that didn't make it any easier for the Rockets, especially when there was a shot clock malfunction at the start of the fourth quarter that delayed the game.
"At this point, it's win or go home," Howard said. "We've got to continue to play hard, play through whatever."