What seemed so improbable on so many occasions for the Houston Rockets, because of their poor play in this second-round playoff series against the Clippers, may just become probable.
The Rockets are one win away from reaching the Western Conference finals, despite prolonged stretches of erratic play that seemed to stack the odds against them.
Houston has won the last two games and needs only to defeat the Clippers in Game 7 at the Toyota Center on Sunday to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1997.
Even Rockets center Dwight Howard seemed baffled that his team had reached this juncture, having overcome a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs and coming back from a 19-point deficit in Game 6 on the road.
Howard, a former Laker, was booed heavily at Staples Center throughout the series. But he’s been dominant the last two games, averaging 20 points, 18 rebounds, plus two blocks, and he repeatedly altered shots at the rim in the last six minutes of Game 6 on Thursday.
After the game, Howard repeatedly said how “crazy” it was for the Rockets to be in this position after they outscored the Clippers, 40-15, in the fourth quarter.
“Our faith was tested all night and throughout this whole series,” Howard said. “And instead of us folding, we just kept it together. Now we’ve got one more game.”
Howard and the Rockets are seeking to become just the ninth team in NBA history to come from 3-1 down to win a series.
And it’s a game on their home court, which history suggests improves their chances.
In a Game 7 of the NBA playoffs, the home team has won 80% of the time, going 95-24.
The Rockets did lose Game 1 of this series at home. But during the regular season the Rockets were tied with the Clippers for the seventh-best home record (30-11).
“The Clippers are a very tough team, and especially at home,” Howard said. “They play great basketball here. We’re just happy, but we’re not done yet. We’ve got to stay humbled. The next game is going to be a dogfight.”
The Rockets trailed the Clippers, 89-70, with 2 minutes 27 seconds left in the third quarter of Game 6. Their comeback was even more improbable because Rockets star James Harden was sitting on the bench during the fourth-quarter rally.
“Games like this are defining moments in your season,” veteran Rockets guard Jason Terry said. “But again, our job is not done. We must remain focused because anything can happen in Game 7.
“I’ll tell you one thing. This team will be ready. What we showed [Thursday] night is that we have the resolve and we have championship mettle. That’s what it’s going to take in a Game 7.”