Sports

Clippers, Rockets ready for Game 1 in Houston

(SportsNetwork.com) - The health of Chris Paul's hamstring is the center storyline when Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers tees off Monday at the Toyota Center.

Paul strained his hamstring in Saturday's Game 7 of the first round against the San Antonio Spurs. According to LA head coach Doc Rivers, Paul's MRI "came out pretty well," but the All-Star guard is questionable for Game 1.

"If there's any risk, he won't play," Rivers said on Sunday. "I can tell you that right now. I just don't know yet. We'll find out (Monday)."

The Clips advanced on Saturday thanks to a gutsy performance by Paul in a classic series.

Paul's acrobatic go-ahead basket with one second remaining lifted the Clippers to a 111-109 win over the defending champion Spurs in a Game 7 thriller.

After Tim Duncan's free throws tied the game with 8.8 seconds left, Paul had the ball just inside halfcourt with Danny Green draped all over him.

Paul dribbled to his right to get a step on Green and alertly leaned farther right to avoid Duncan, flicking the ball in over both defenders to put the Clippers in front.

"No balance on the shot, falling backwards, amazing," Rivers said.

Boris Diaw's ensuing lob inbounds pass into the lane intended for Kawhi Leonard was batted away by Matt Barnes, ending the game.

Paul's astounding shot was the 31st lead change of a classic nip-and-tuck game. There were 16 ties and neither team led by more than eight points. Eleven of the lead changes came in the fourth quarter.

It was a fitting conclusion to a tight seven-game series.

"I'm a better person after going through this series," Rivers said.

Paul exited at the 1:52 mark of the first quarter with a left hamstring strain before returning with 6:27 remaining in the second.

Despite the injury, Paul managed to score 18 of his 27 points in the second half. He was 9-of-13 from the field overall and knocked down five of his six attempts from beyond the arc.

Now the Clippers get a well-rested Rockets team.

Houston defeated the Dallas Mavericks in five games in round one, meaning, the Rockets have been resting and preparing since Tuesday.

The two teams, who haven't met in the postseason since 1993, split four meetings this season. Each team won in the other's building and the Rockets won the final two encounters to halt a six-game series losing streak.

"You can only put so much on the regular season," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "We're both going to try and do what we do well."

James Harden was his usual spectacular self against the Mavericks, scoring 28.4 ppg and handing out 7.8 assists. He is expected to either win, or finish second for league MVP.

Dwight Howard, who missed several contests versus the Clippers this season, was also very good in the quarterfinals. He averaged 16.6 ppg and 13.8 rpg. Howard's presence in the paint was as special as always, blocking three shots per game.

Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Houston.