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Houston Rockets Oust Clippers To Clinch Western Finals Berth

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) after game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 113-100 to win the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The come back is complete as the Rockets will move on to face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.  The Rockets entered the series as underdogs and didn’t do much to dissuade the pundits when they fell behind 3-1 in the series. By that time even stalwart Houston fans were wondering what had happened to their team as the one on the court didn’t resemble the squad who had notched 56 regular season wins and dispensed of the Mavericks so easily in the first round.

113. 169. . 100. 77

With their backs against the wall the Rockets finally reemerged as the fighters we’ve grown accustomed to and something else happened. For the first time the Rockets were able to mount an attack and win games without James Harden needing to mastermind those efforts. Sitting on the sidelines for the majority of the fourth quarter Game 6 comeback in Los Angeles, Harden’s teammates erased a 19 point lead. Arguably this solidified the chemistry of the team who now believe they can win any game.

Certainly that confidence was on full display the moment the Rockets took to the court Sunday for the pivotal Game 7. They got out to an early lead and never looked back.

Top Performers:

Chris Paul: 26 Points,  10 Assists,  5 Rebounds and 4 Steals

Blake Griffin: 27 Points, 11 Rebounds, 6 Assists, 1 Block

James Harden: 31 Points, 7 Rebounds, 8 Assist,  3 Steals and 1 Block

Trevor Ariza: 22 Points,  7 Rebounds, 3  Assists, 2  Steals and shot 50% from three connecting on 6 of 12

The X-Factors:

Celebrating his 38th birthday Pablo Prigioni was by far the biggest surprise of the afternoon. Not once but twice he stole the ball off inbound passes which resulted in scores on each occasion, the second time with his own three pointer. He ended the day with just 4 points but his intangibles were the story as he posted 4 assists and 3 steals as well as a team high plus +20. While he struggled in several games during the series and attempted too many shots, he saved his best effort for Sunday.

I’ve often sang the praises of Trevor Ariza for his top notch defense and shot making and cite him as my favorite Rocket. Although we all expect Howard and Harden to be the main producers on the court it’s often the little things Ariza does which don’t show up on box scores, but are the difference in the game. Sunday he was at his best hitting six 3-point shots of the twelve he attempted. His final three was the dagger that buried the Clippers and he sank it right in front of the Clippers bench with many of them screaming at him and stamping their feet. That sort of sums up his presence on the Rockets, always calm under pressure.

Payback Moment:

If you recall earlier in the series Austin Rivers copied James Harden’s patented swag move, when he takes a player down and scores he will move his hand like he’s stirring a pot. Rivers wasn’t the only one to punk Harden as Clippers owner Steve Ballmer made the same motion mid-way through the third quarter of Game 6. It did make me wonder if that could have been the catalyst to spark the Rockets to attempt their comeback. One things for sure I bet Rivers and Ballmer won’t be making that motion next year when they meet the Rockets in the regular season.

The Game:

Right from the jump it was obvious this was Houston’s day as they took it to the Clippers. I’d mentioned in previous games how Harden’s post game numbers looked productive, but it never felt like he was making a difference. On Sunday it was the complete opposite as he dominated and every time he touched the ball it either resulted in a score or a quality assist for his teammates. Conversely, Blake Griffin who had been the best Clipper through their first 5 games transposed positions with Harden as his numbers were strong, but it never appeared like his contributions were sparking his squad.

I do feel bad for Chris Paul who again won’t get to advance to the Western Conference Finals falling just short. He brought his bull dog attitude to the court but none of his teammates appeared ready to join him. Things L.A. regularly do weren’t occurring naturally like when DeAndre Jordan was left wide open under the basket. He threw back for a thunderous dunk but missed it and as it clanked off the rim and with it the Clippers chances of turning the game around.

The Clippers were earmarked to easily win the series and it seemed like they forgot the game is played on the floor following their two blow-out victories at home. Certainly their  Game 6 collapse was still resonating with most players on the court Sunday (aside from Chris Paul) as the team looked defeated from the start. Some will say it was fatigue that caught up to them, but personally I think the game proved how much the mental aspect effects the product on the floor.

For our Rockets the timing of their raging confidence couldn’t be better as they now will face the squad who’ve owned them all season in the Golden State Warriors.

After close to a 20 year absence from the Western Conference Finals we’ll see if they can channel that energy to overcome their nemesis.

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