Clippers Gift Rockets With Game 6: L.A. Can’t Close (Again)


May 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) watches from the bench against the Houston Rockets in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers won back-to-back games with a 20+ point margin to secure a 3-1 series lead. Now, they’re heading to game seven against the Houston Rockets, after blowing a 19 point third quarter lead in game six to lose 119-107. Their occasional lack of killer instinct and ability to hang onto a lead in late game situations has been one of their worst downfalls in the past, and now it’s put their chance to reach the Western Conference finals in jeopardy.

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Yet, earlier during their playoff run this year, the Clippers put some of that reputation to rest. In the first round, they won game six against the San Antonio Spurs to avoid elimination, then proceeded to win game seven with a Chris Paul buzzer beater. It was the end of that series which proved the mental toughness the Clippers had. Although, after missing out on two opportunities to defeat the Rockets, the Clippers’ opportunity to make the Conference finals for the first time in franchise history is entirely up in the air.

When they had a comfortable 3-1 series lead, it looked like a celebration waiting to happen that they’d be advancing to the next round. Instead, the Rockets have the momentum and the Clippers seem lost.

And after such a strong start to game six, it’s incredibly surprising how they now find themselves in this position.

Heading into the final quarter, the Clippers held a 92-79 lead and even extended their lead to 19 at one point during the third quarter. Blake Griffin made a 180 degree reverse layup (finished with 28 points), Chris Paul was splitting the Rockets’ defense with ease to attack the rim (finished with 31 points), and L.A. were almost in cruise control as they approached the end of what should have been a series ending victory.

The Clippers took the third quarter 28-17 and established a lead that should have solidified their victory.

But Houston weren’t going down that easily.

They ignored the fact that their superstar and MVP runner-up, James Harden, had a poor shooting night — he made only 5-of-20 shots — and instead rode Dwight Howard (20 points, 21 rebounds) and the fourth quarter heroics of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to victory.

It was during the final 12 minutes that the Rockets dominated and crushed the hopes and anticipation of every fan in Staples Center.

They won the final quarter 40-15.

Brewer and Smith both finished with 19 points, scoring 15 and 14 in the fourth quarter, respectively. And with Harden spending most of the final period on the bench, the rest of the Rockets stepped up and played their hearts out.

Meanwhile, the Clippers simply lost all energy and heart. Just minutes away from heading deeper into the playoffs than they ever have before.

Smith buried back-to-back threes and trimmed the deficit to five points with only 6:25 to go, and Houston went on a 23-2 run with just under two minutes left. And with that, the Clippers went from a position of total control to facing a game seven where anything can happen.

May 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) shoots over Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

What makes this loss even harder to take is that despite overcoming the defending champions in the first round (after facing elimination themselves), and having to deal with an elite MVP candidate in Harden, the Clippers failed due to the Rockets’ bench.

Not a 50 point performance from an MVP runner-up, but a group of relentless role players instead.

In fact, neither Howard or Harden made a single shot in the fourth quarter.

This doesn’t take anything away from the performances of Smith, Brewer and Jason Terry — as they played an exceptional spell of basketball with their season on the line — but it was also an utter lack of heart and killer instinct from the Clippers that lost them the game.

You simply can’t be defeated by a player who barely makes 30 percent of his three point attempts (Smith) in a potential series winning game. So no matter how well the Rockets played to come back from such a large deficit (in both game six and the series itself), the Clippers’ defense was pitiful in the fourth quarter, to say the least.

Now, L.A. need to overcome the immense amount of momentum and confidence they’ve rewarded Houston with, after failing to close out games six and seven. Which, as we’ve now seen, is by no means going to be easy.

After the game, Griffin said “it’s about who wants it more”. And with the Clippers’ season and chance to make franchise history once again on the line, they need to turn themselves around and play with more passion, urgency, and gritty defense than ever.

More than anything, their attitude is what will determine this series.

Next: James Harden Proves MVP Candidacy In Game 5