The Rockets were down by 19 points in the third quarter, but still pulled off the victory to even the best-of-seven, second-round series at 3-3. Game 7 will be played Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston.
“We just kind of had to get ourselves composed,” Rockets Coach Kevin McHale said. “Guys just kept fighting. That group that was out there in the fourth just had great composure. They had a great sense of what they wanted to accomplish out there. They were not going to just go down. … I was just proud of that group.”
And the Rockets did all of their damage with James Harden sitting on the bench and watching Josh Smith (19 points, six rebounds), Dwight Howard (20 points, 21 rebounds), Corey Brewer (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Trevor Ariza (13 points) rally them in the fourth quarter.
“Until the clock says zero, zero, zero in the fourth quarter, that's when it's over,” Ariza said. “And we don't quit until it ends. This is the playoffs. You're supposed to fight until the end and that's what we did.”
History wasn't on the Rockets' side. They were once down 3-1 and knew that only eight teams had ever come back from that deficit to win an NBA playoff series, the last being the Phoenix Suns in 2006. The Rockets have a chance to make it nine because so many of their players refused to quit.
Brewer tied the score at 102 on a dunk and hit a three-pointer for a 105-102 Rockets lead.
Smith made one of two free throws for a 106-102 Rockets lead with 3 minutes 4 seconds left and Jason Terry made a 17-foot jumper for a 108-102 lead with 2:27 left, sending the Rockets into a state of happiness.
Smith then blocked Blake Griffin inside and followed that up with a three-pointer for a 111-102 Rockets cushion that left the crowd stunned.
“We held together,” Howard said. “We just kept saying, ‘We're not going to quit. We're not going to give up. We've come too far just to end it like this.'”
They had promised to keep their composure in this game, to not let the officiating affect their play. But both Howard and Harden, Houston's two best players and leaders, were issued technical fouls in the third quarter. Howard, who was also called for a flagrant foul on Griffin in the third, got his technical for throwing an elbow at DeAndre Jordan and Harden got his for pushing Matt Barnes.
That only seemed to deflate the Rockets. They fell apart in the third quarter, as they did in two routs here. This time, the Rockets were torched for 28 points in the third, turning their two-point deficit at the half into a 13-point margin.
But even with Harden scoring just 23 points on five-for-20 shooting, the Rockets regrouped, staved off elimination and have a chance to be in the history book.
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter: @BA_Turner