Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The Rockets followed an epic comeback with a blowout to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1997.
The Clippers came up short again despite looking like a sure thing last week.
James Harden had 31 points, Trevor Ariza scored 22 and No. 2-seeded Houston never trailed in a 113-100 win over Los Angeles in Game 7 on Sunday afternoon, completing a stunning comeback in their semifinal series.
The Rockets won three games in a row after falling behind 3-1 and moved on to face top-seeded Golden State starting Tuesday in Oakland.
They closed out the series three days after stealing Game 6 from the Clippers on Thursday night by rallying from a 19-point deficit in the second half for a shocking 119-107 victory.
The Rockets led by 15 in the first half on Sunday and let it get as close as three in the third quarter before pulling away. They led by double digits for almost the entire fourth quarter.
"They had stretches where they did some things that got us off our game a little bit, but for the most part we stayed in attack mode," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "We just had a lot of guys play well."
The Clippers, in their first season under new ownership, were trying to reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
Instead, point guard Chris Paul and his team have another offseason to wonder how to get over the hump.
They were knocked out in the semifinals for the third time in four years.
"So close? I don't even know that means anymore," said Paul.
"Like Ricky Bobby said," he went on, referencing the Will Ferrell character, "if you're not first, you're last. Close isn't good enough."
Dwight Howard chipped in 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, including 12 points and 11 boards in the first half.
Later, in a scene that perfectly highlighted the Clippers' desperation, Paul jumped onto Howard's back during teammate DeAndre Jordan's free throw with 86 seconds left, stopping the clock and sending Howard to the foul line with an eight-point lead.
Howard missed both foul shots, but Ariza hit a 3 that pushed the Rockets' lead to 11 and effectively ended the series.
"It's a long summer," said Paul, who had 26 points and 10 assists. "It's getting old, to tell you the truth. I have to get better. It starts with me."
The Rockets, after back-to-back first-round exits, finally made the conference finals again for the first time since two years after the Hakeem Olajuwon-led teams won back-to-back NBA titles in the 1990s.
They will face the Warriors, who won all four meetings between the teams in the regular season.
"This was a great test for us," said Howard. "I think we passed it, so it's time for the next one."
Blake Griffin had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles and Jordan added 16 points and 17 boards.
The Clippers trailed by 15 points in the second quarter and had it all the way down to three after 3 1/2 minutes in the third. But a dunk by Harden and a 3- pointer by Josh Smith helped the Rockets build their lead up to eight and it was never lower than seven after that.
Harden scored five of his 10 third-quarter points in the final 70 seconds to make it a 17-point game entering the fourth, where it got as high as 20.
"We came out a little sluggish (in the third quarter," said Harden. "Most of it was my fault. I wasn't moving, so I had to pick it up."
Earlier, Harden scored 12 points in the first quarter and the Rockets shot nearly 59 percent to lead by as many as eight. They scored the first eight in the second quarter to go ahead by 15.
The Clippers whittled it to six points later in the quarter but trailed by 10 at halftime.
After the game, as the Clippers tried to explain where it all went wrong, it was hard to think the franchise that Steve Ballmer bought for $2 billion last year after former owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA, hadn't just blown a chance to play for a conference title for the first time.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he thought the series changed in Game 5 last Tuesday, when Houston avoided elimination for the first time with a 124-103 win. But Rivers couldn't ignore the implications of his team's collapse in Game 6.
"I'll think about it for a long time," he said. "So will all of our players."
The Clippers are 0-4 in the Western Conference semifinals. They went 0-3 in three straight trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals as the Buffalo Braves from 1974-76 ... Ariza was 6-for-12 on 3-pointers ... Josh Smith had 15 points for the Rockets and Corey Brewer scored 11 off the bench ... Jamal Crawford scored 17 points off the bench for the Clippers.