Sports

Clippers, Rockets meet in Game 7

(SportsNetwork.com) - There may not be any better theater than a Game 7.

On Sunday afternoon at the Toyota Center, either the Los Angeles Clippers, or the Houston Rockets will advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The other will be making tee times.

The Rockets, the No. 2 seed and winners of the Southwest Division, fought off elimination twice. They appeared dead after a home loss in Game 1 when the Clippers were missing All-Star Chris Paul, and a pair of lopsided losses in Los Angeles.

Houston was resilient. It won Game 5 in Houston, then stunned the Clippers in LA Thursday in Game 6.

The Rockets overcame a 19-point deficit to stun the Staples Center crowd, the Clippers and perhaps even themselves with a 119-107 win.

When James Harden went to the bench with 1:33 remaining in the third quarter his Rockets were trailing by 17 points and in desperate need for answers.

Harden barely saw the floor again, and not because the Clippers put the nail in the coffin, but because Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Houston's role players outscored the Clippers 40-15 in an incredible fourth quarter display.

Brewer and Smith combined for 29 points over the final 12 minutes and both finished with 19 to send the series back to Houston for Game 7 on Sunday.

"I could see it in their eyes. I could see they were in a rhythm," Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. "They earned the right to finish that game. They kept hitting shots, so I just let them go."

Dwight Howard posted a monster 20-point, 21-rebound effort and helped limit the Clippers to four field goals in the fourth quarter.

Blake Griffin was held scoreless in the fourth after pouring in 28 points over the first three quarters. Paul totaled 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, while J.J. Redick chipped in 15 points on 13 shots.

All signs pointed to another Clippers blowout win on their home floor, where they won Games 3 and 4 by a combined 58 points. A 15-2 run, highlighted by Griffin's no-look bank shot over his head, had the Clippers ahead by a healthy 89-70 margin with under three minutes to go in the third quarter.

Harden went to the bench a short time later, and the game unpredictably turned on its proverbial head.

A 9-0 run helped Houston pull within 92-79 after three, and Brewer cut the deficit to single digits by scoring nine points in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth.

The second of two straight 3-pointers from Smith sparked an unforgettable 18-0 stretch that silenced the once deafening crowd. Brewer threw down a baseline dunk to even things at 102-102, then drained a 3-pointer the next time down to give the Rockets their first lead since the second quarter.

Smith hit another 3-pointer with under two minutes left, and a streak of 14 straight misses clinched the Clippers' miserable fate.

"We don't have a choice but to forget about (Thursday's) game and move on," said Paul. "We have another Game 7 on our hands."

Sunday's game will be the second Game 7 for the Clippers already this postseason. They needed the full schedule to eliminate the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

Los Angeles is 1-2 all-time on the road in Game 7s, but that lone victory came last time out. The Clippers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis to close out the first round in 2012.

The Clips have never made the Western Conference Finals in franchise history.

The Rockets haven't been there since 1997 when the Utah Jazz beat them in six games.

"We've got one thing to do - win one home game," said McHale. "You live for those moments to go out there and play basketball."

The Golden State Warriors await Tuesday night for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Oracle Arena.