Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why Clippers Will Beat Rockets In Game 7









Look for the LA Clippers to climb out of that hole they tumbled into Thursday when they lost game 6 at home to the Houston Rockets, 119-107. But losing is the wrong word to describe what happened. What the Clippers really did was choke the game away.

It was really ugly. So, naturally, were the late-game stats. With about 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, the Clippers were ahead by 19 and cruising. Then they barreled into an iceberg, turning into the Titanic. They were outscored 40-15 in the fourth quarter, a historic playoff turnaround. Actually they just scored 12 points in the fourth. It was 15 because Chris Paul.buried an uncontested three-pointer at the buzzer. At one point during that epic collapse they went nearly seven minutes without a field goal.

But that's all past. Forget that colossal choke. Sunday is a new day for the Clippers, a day of redemption.
The Clippers you see Sunday won't be that wobbly outfit that turned to jelly with the game on the line on Thursday.

In Thursday's game LA was pressing ferociously in the fourth quarter, pressing so hard on offense they forgot to play defense. The Rockets scored so easily because the Clippers defense was non-existent. LA players, crippled by the pressure, slipped into a mental fog and visibly slowed down, making the Rockets several steps faster. The more the Clippers pressed the more they crumbled. For the Rockets it was almost like pregame practice. Coach Doc Rivers was no help. He was powerless. He had never seen anything like it. He didn't know how to stop the bleeding.

The strangest part of the loss was that Houston's fourth quarter blitz happened with their best player, James Harden, who hadn't played very well most of the game, on the bench. The Clippers were mostly destroyed in that quarter by two so-so role players, Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, who scored 29 of the 40 fourth quarter points.

Here's why the Clippers will win Sunday. First of all, in the back of their minds on Thursday, they knew they had another game, that Thursday's game wasn't the end of the series. That sense of urgency that usually short-circuits such meltdowns wasn't in play. But now they have that sense of urgency. For another thing, this game is more important to the Clippers. Winning it means they go to a conference finals for the first time in franchise history. That gives them extra motivation. The Rockets have won NBA championships so it's not as crucial to them.

The game is particularly critical for Chis Paul, one of the great point guards of the last decade. He has never been to a conference final, never advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs. This game is his chance to finally silence his critics. Even if the Clippers get to the finals and lose, it won't be so bad for him. But not reaching that level, once again, will gnaw at Paul and pump up his critics for the entire off season. He's desperate to win this game and his desperation will fuel his team.

One key stat is in the Clippers' favor. Teams that get a 3-1 lead in a seven game series win it 96% of the time. However there's another stat that works against them. In game7s in playoff history, the road teams have prevailed overwhelmingly, 24-95. But the Clippers can offer a stat which counters that one. They have been pretty good in game7s in recent years with this core unit. In the last three years the team has won its last three game7 efforts, including one on the road in Memphis in 2012. And, don't forget, just about two weeks ago, the Clippers beat the Spurs in a grueling game7, a team that's far better than the Rockets.

Another thing in the Clippers' favor. The Rockets wouldn't have won without spectacular games by Brewer and Smith. Those guys are unlikely to run wild again. The Clippers will see to that.

One more thing. The Clippers are favored by 2. Odds makers and gamblers have a sense that Thursday's game was an aberration, a blunder that, odds are, won't happen again on Sunday.

The worse in this series is behind the Clippers. They won't slip into that abyss in consecutive games. They are too talented for that.