Facing a 3-1 series deficit, the Houston Rockets pulled off the improbable, beating the Los Angeles Clippers three straight games to advance to their first Western Conference Finals since 1997. The Rockets won Game 7 in Houston, 113-100, on Sunday, leading by 10 points at halftime and by 20 points early in the fourth quarter.
“It was the best atmosphere I’ve (experienced) at Toyota Center,” Houston’s SportsRadio 610 host Mike Meltser said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Now, I haven’t been here forever, but I’ve been going to games for the last five years since I came down here. And you could just feel in the building, even coming in early at like 12:30 or 1 o’clock before a 2:30 tip, just seeing the different media there – when you see different people walking around, you’re like, ‘This is Game 7.’ You kind of feel that. You felt the electricity in the building. It got a little dicey when the Rockets kind of kept allowing very easy points. But down the stretch, once Trevor Ariza hit that three in the corner, it was a gigantic celebration. It was one of those rare days that makes you kind of rewarded to be a sports fan in Houston.”
The series swung in Game 6, when the Rockets overcame a 19-point deficit in the second half to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles.
“Being in sports every single day, I’m rarely shocked by things these days,” Meltser said, “but after watching on Thursday night, I was just in disbelief. I tweeted on Thursday night that I could not believe what I had witnessed. I re-watched a bunch of the third and fourth quarter later that night and went to bed at 3 in the morning – not just to tangibly re-watch the game, but just to kind of figure out what exactly happened over those last 15 minutes. I think it’s a combination – like it always is – of a team collapsing, which the Clippers did, and the Rockets getting on a hot streak. If you look at this from a raw statistical standpoint, the Rockets at some point were due to shoot well from three, and through the first five games they really hadn’t done that.”
They did, however, shoot 12-of-32 (40.6 percent) from three in Game 6 and 12-of-30 (40 percent) in Game 7.
“This is a team that shoots a lot of threes but they don’t have any sharpshooter specifically,” Meltser said. “If you look at the course of the regular season, they’ve gone through shooting ups and downs. Thankfully for them in this series, it ended on a really big high note.”
Even more encouraging for the Rockets, they won Games 6 and 7 without relying exclusively on James Harden, who sat out most of the fourth quarter in Game 6 and who was held scoreless in the second quarter of Game 7. Houston got significant contributions from Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, who combined for 38 points in Game 6 and 26 points in Game 7.
“These guys were two players who I think were a key part of their success over the course of the season,” Meltser said. “They need them to play well.”
The Clippers, meanwhile, didn’t get enough from Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers in the final three games of the series. That quartet combined for just 29 points in Game 7, shooting 11-of-36 (30.6 percent) from the floor.
“I know throwing in Rivers may not be fair,” Meltser said, “but if you look at what those guys were not able to do in Games 5, 6 and 7, I think that’s the most underrated part of what happened in the last week of this series.”
The Rockets will face Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. Game 1 is Tuesday in Oakland at 9 p.m. ET.
“I think this is going to be really tough for them,” Meltser said. “It’s not an anti-Rockets thing, but I think Golden State’s the best team in the league. I know they were down 2-1 (to Memphis). People will mention this: The Rockets were 0-4 against the Warriors in the regular season, and I know if you look at some of the lineups in those games, there was no Howard. There were some guys in and out of the lineup. I think one problem the Rockets will have – there were some games where Dwight played great but nobody else showed up. James Harden played well, (but) nobody else showed up. It felt to me like Golden State was just an avalanche – that they had so many reserves and so many different players playing well that I think the Rockets might have trouble with their depth.
“But the thing is, they’re a different team than the one that went 0-4 against Golden State – based on the Dallas series, based on what’s happening in the last week, most especially against the Clippers. Clearly Golden State’s going to be the favorite, but I think based on what we’ve seen the last three games, I’ll give the Rockets a chance.”