Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - An epic comeback? A staggering collapse? A little bit of both?
History will determine which descriptor best defines Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, but what's known is there will be a winner-take-all Game 7 after the Houston Rockets rallied from the depths of elimination and blew past the Los Angeles Clippers 119-107 at a stunned Staples Center.
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. Chris Paul totaled 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, while J.J. Redick chipped in 15 points on 13 shots.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers pointed to the team's defense as its downfall.
"When you give up 40 points (in the fourth quarter), you've stopped playing. Clearly," a hoarse Rivers said. "We gave this one away, but it's still 3-3 and we have a Game 7."
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.
"They outplayed us in every sense of the word down the stretch," admitted Griffin, whose team has never advanced to the conference finals.
The Clippers ran early and raced out to a 20-11 lead after Paul sent a drop pass to a trailing Griffin for a tomahawk slam.
The Rockets scored the final five points of the first quarter to pull within 29-25, and Harden, who missed his first five field goals, went on a personal 11-2 run to give them the lead midway through the second quarter.
Harden scored 17 points in the quarter, but Redick's left-handed drive to the basket just before the buzzer had the Clippers on top by a slim 64-62 margin.
The second half began with Howard picking up flagrant-1 and technical fouls for two separate altercations. Howard floored Griffin with an unnecessary shoulder 1:03 into the third quarter and threw an elbow in DeAndre Jordan's direction less than two minutes later.
His frustration mirrored the Rockets' shooting struggles, as they missed 16 of their first 19 shots and watched what was a two-point game at halftime turn into a 19-point deficit.
Houston was 0-49 all-time in the postseason when trailing by 10-or-more points heading into the fourth quarter ... Harden, who also received a technical foul in the third quarter for shoving Griffin, scored 23 points on 5-of-20 shooting ... Houston shot 47 free throws to LA's 32 ... The Rockets owned a 60-41 rebounding advantage and scored 26 second-chance points to the Clippers' five ... Jordan pulled down nine rebounds, just the second time in this postseason he failed to record at least 10.