On May 14, 2015, the Western Conference Semi-Finals saw one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Playoff history as the Houston Rockets erased a 19-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in spectacular fashion and eventually win the series. That Game 6 still haunts the Clippers to this day and may have ignited the spark of a new rivalry in the Western Conference. On Monday, as a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day slate of games, the Rockets found themselves in a similar situation…
Unfortunately for Houston, the Rockets could not pull off another miraculous comeback. However, they did come ridiculously close.
As the fourth quarter started on Monday, the Rockets found themselves down 94-80 and devoid of much hope as the team’s primary superstar – James Harden – had struggled mightily. After the Rockets managed to cut the lead to six with just over seven minutes left, the Clippers extended their lead back to 14 with four minutes left. At that moment, the Rockets called a timeout and proceeded to close the game out on an improbable 24-10 run – led by Dwight Howard and Marcus Thornton.
Howard had his best game of the season (statistically) as he finished the game with 36 points and 26 rebounds, securing his tenth straight double-double. This game was also the forty-fifth game of Dwight’s 12-year career with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds – the most in the last thirty seasons. Dwight shot 68.75% from the field (many of them slam dunks) and a shockingly good 78% from the free throw line. Unfortunately for Dwight, who is a famously bad free throw shooter, the rest of the Rockets shot a pitiful 55% from the free throw line.
Sharpshooter Marcus Thornton was another bright spot for the Rockets as he played the role that ex-Rocket (and current Clipper, who didn’t see the floor tonight) Josh Smith played in leading a comeback. Thornton rained three-pointers on the Clippers to a tune of 13 points in the fourth quarter, including the biggest shot of the game. With seven seconds left, Thornton drained a game-tying three that eventually sent the game to overtime.
Despite the heroics from Dwight and Thornton, the Rockets failed to execute in the overtime period. The high pick-and-rolls that Houston tried to run with James Harden as the ball handler failed miserably and the Clippers managed to hit three from beyond the arc, effectively ending the game before the Rockets could get anything going in overtime.
With this loss the Rockets four game winning streak, dating back to that miraculous Game 6, against the Clippers came to an end with a final score of 140-132. The Rockets didn’t have the magic tonight to make another comeback, but they put themselves in a position to lose this game by playing poor defense, missing free throws, and having yet another dreadful third quarter. It doesn’t help that James Harden only scored 20 points and, on the plus-minus scale (+/-) that measures how a team performs based on net scoring with a certain player on the floor, was a -16 on the night.
The Rockets couldn’t sweep the city of Los Angeles this weekend (they beat the Lakers handily on Sunday), but they’ll have another chance at the Clippers in Houston on March 16. Given the recent history of these matchups and the chippy-ness these teams play with, that’s likely going to be a must see game.
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