Rockets hope to carry momentum in Game 7 against Clippers
HOUSTON (AP) Forcing a Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals with a comeback win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Houston Rockets have evoked memories of the Clutch City teams that won NBA titles in 1994 and '95.
One more win Sunday will put them in the conference finals for the first since 1997 against a Clippers team that has never reached the conference finals.
The visiting Rockets outscored Los Angeles 51-20 at the end of the third and in the fourth quarter Thursday night to overcome a 19-point deficit and even up the series after trailing 3-1.
Houston coach Kevin McHale, who won three championships in a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, said there isn't any magic formula to winning on Sunday. The Rockets simply have to remember why they play the game.
''It's Game 7. It's fun man,'' McHale said. ''That's what you live for ... there's a joy and a calm that comes over you when you do something really, really well and you're doing something you've done since you've been a little kid.''
The Clippers are in the semifinals for the third time in four years and are looking to end the two-game skid to advance to meet the Golden State Warriors.
''We've had two opportunities and we haven't closed it out,'' Blake Griffin said. ''You have to give them credit, they've been playing better than us the last two games and wanted it more clearly. So we've got an opportunity and we've got to take advantage.''
The Rockets attributed their success on Thursday night to a never quit attitude. Dwight Howard said some of the shots they made in the rally were so crazy it reminded him of a 1990s movie where divine beings help a baseball team win a championship.
''It felt like ''Angels in the Outfield'' except the basketball version. Just unbelievable,'' Howard said shaking his head.
The Clippers lamented letting Thursday night's game slip away to force them to try and close out the series on the road.
''We just stopped playing, honestly,'' Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ''The first thing is we let up, you could see it. We got the lead and kind of got comfortable and started making plays that you shouldn't make that there's no way you'd make with a one-point lead.''
The notoriously verbose Rivers was succinct when asked what he's stressing to his team with its season on the line.
''Finish,'' Rivers said.
The Clippers watched portions of the fourth quarter on video on Friday, but were done thinking about it by the time they arrived in Houston on Saturday. Rivers is confident his team has moved on from the gut-wrenching loss and doesn't expect any bad feelings from that game to linger.
''If they do we're going to lose (Sunday),'' Rivers said. ''The good news for us is we have a chance to win and that game's forgotten about. We move on and that's the great thing about sports. You have to. You have no choice.''
James Harden found himself in an unfamiliar place late in Game 6. Fighting off an illness, the MVP runner-up scored 23 points before spending almost the entire fourth quarter on the bench watching Corey Brewer and Josh Smith lead his team's rally. After a couple of days to rest and recover, Harden is eager to help Houston return to the conference finals.
''It would mean a lot,'' he said. ''Just starting from the first day I got here, trying to make the playoffs and trying to build this franchise back to where it needs to be. Now we're in a position to do really good things so ... it's going to be a great opportunity, a great test for us.''
Howard had 20 points and 21 rebounds in Game 6 to help Houston to the win. He's been solid for the Rockets in all but one game in this series, but has struggled with technical fouls, an ejection and flagrant fouls. He knows the Clippers' plan is to try and take him out of his game by getting him upset and is focused on avoiding that trap.
He spoke of his plan for handling it on Sunday.
''Just smile and keep playing,'' he said. ''That's the only way.''
Howard made two trips to the Eastern Conference finals with Orlando and advanced to the finals in one of those seasons with the Magic. He's talked all season about winning a title and now that he's healthy after missing half the season with injuries, he's even more intent on that goal.
''It's either win or go home and I'm not ready to go on vacation,'' he said. ''I've been in the league for too long and it hurts to give your all and see someone else hold up the trophy. We've got to leave it on the floor.''