It was all good heading into the fourth quarter Thursday night for the Los Angeles Clippers. The team who had never been to the Conference Finals before only stood 12 minutes away from team history. All they had to do was hold to the lead they had worked so hard to build up. But unfortunately, the Clippers became the usual Clippers again. They were outscored 40-15 in the fourth quarter and ultimately lost the game. The scene went from pure joy in the third to frustration in at the end of the game. The faces of the team and the fans of the team were long from the frustration of losing a game they had in the palms of their hands. And along with the fall of the team in a series-clinching game, the Clippers now have to travel to Houston to take on a Rockets team that has a ton of confidence. The play of forward Josh Smith was outstanding in the fourth quarter and what was so amazing is they did this with their best player, guard James Harden, on the bench. As a result, the Clippers and Rockets will face each other one last time. The Clippers will face yet another Game 7 but this time against the Houston Rockets. Of course the blame game has been played with this team ever since the loss. Some are blaming Doc Rivers for not calling a timeout to slow down the Rockets’ momentum while others are blaming the team’s stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, for not restoring order when the lead was quickly disappearing. But at this point, it does not matter who is to blame. The Clippers have to get ready for Game 7 on the road and there is nothing they can do about the results of Game 6 anymore. But which Clippers team will show up in Houston?
The Rockets, on the other hand, are getting it going at the right time. Ever since Rockets head coach Kevin McHale put Josh Smith in the starting lineup over Terrance Jones they have gone 2-0. Jones outperformed him coming off the bench in Game 5, but Smith was the catalyst in the Game 6 comeback, netting 14 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. But the Rockets have not been the most consistent team this series at all. They were outplayed in Game 1 versus the Los Angeles Clippers and they would have lost Game 2 of this series if they wouldn’t have got it going late in the game. They were very fortunate to not be down by two games just that quick. Other than the last two games, it seems as if the Rockets have not been playing that well at all. Their MVP candidate, James Harden, has been putting up numbers (25 points and 8 assists per game), but has struggled from distance in the last two games (just 3/14). And along with that, he was in a funk in Game 6 and only shot 5/20 that game. But Harden has been nowhere near as inconsistent as Dwight Howard. The big man has been dominant in some games and non-existent in others. The foul shooting from him has been awful this series (38%), but that was to be expected. What some may have expected is for him to be better defensively this series. The Clippers are an excellent offensive team, but he was supposed to be the equalizer for them on the backline. Well, that has not happened as much and even though his numbers look good to the eye, those that have watched the game have been disappointed yet again in what they have seen. Dwight has been making the usual plays that make you scratch your head and he still cannot make two solid post moves in a row. But even with that, the Rockets don’t use him right anyway. They should put him in pick and roll situations that limit the post moves he has to make, but yet he camps out down low, looking to try and recreate himself at the wrong times. We shall see if Howard, Harden, Josh Smith and the rest of the Rockets show up in Game 7 or if they falter in front of their home crowd on the big stage.
Both teams are trying to go to a new level while searching for consistency during the playoffs. And they both are looking to take that next step that many said was not possible when the year began. But in order for them to do so, there needs to be someone step up and be consistent for this huge game. For Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, this game would be the biggest game in their career. They would be a part of making Clippers history. And for James Harden and Dwight Howard, this would be a chance for both to get one step closer to a return trip to the NBA Finals. It will be interesting to see which team rises to the occasion. Will the Clippers pay for letting Game 6 get away from them or will the Rockets wilt under the pressure of a Game 7? Only time will tell, but it will definitely be fun to watch who can be the more consistent team of the two.