For a strong minute there it didn’t look like this series would be the roller coaster we envisioned in our preview. Without Chris Paul (hamstring) the Clippers stole Game 1 and just barely slipped in Game 2, but then took a commanding 3-1 lead over the Rockets with pure annihilation in Games 3 and 4, where the Clippers combined for 252 points. But the Rockets exploded back in desperation winning two straight, including their unreal 51-20 second half comeback in Game 6. Here are some notes and keys from BJ and Martin for today’s Game 7.
– Every other second round match up in these playoffs had teams win three games in a row to close out the series (Cleveland, Atlanta, Golden State were all down 2-1 before closing out in Game 6).
Points per 100 poss. by game Rockets/Clippers: 93.9 / 108.8 110.8 / 105.0 110.7 / 126.1 91.4 / 123.2 128.4 / 106.6 115.2 / 103.6
— RealGM (@RealGM) May 17, 2015
– DeAndre or Dwight? Whoever has the smarter impact between the two will give their team the advantage. The Clippers give up 110+ points per possession without DeAndre on the floor as opposed to -100 with him on the floor. If Dwight continues to put physical pressure on DeAndre, the Clippers are in trouble.
– Clipper amnesia and comfortability: LA survived their biggest possible hurdle in a Game 7 brawl with the Spurs in the first round, but that was at home. What propelled them past the Spurs was their ability to forget their past mistakes and focus on the next play. The challenge is to find their pace again in Houston where they haven’t won since Game 1.
– Role players: I felt the Rockets had a sleeper’s edge in the conference because of their scrappiness and length, which I think has proven to wear on the Clippers because unlike their first round opponent, these Rockets can run with them. Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Trevor Ariza are the gritty, lengthy issues for the Clippers, who need guys like J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes to be effective just as much as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
– Stars: Blake Griffin, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard. At many points in the game, it will come down to what these guys are doing to put their teams in position to win Game 7.
– Experience: Clippers are 3-0 in Game 7’s in the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era. They’ve been here before, including their thrilling Game 7 victory in round one against the Spurs. That win did come at home, but knocking off the defending champs in a Game 7 situation is a huge confidence boost.
– The “others”: Can Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, Jason Terry and Terrence Jones give the Rockets the significant contributions needed to advance? Barring a ridiculous performance from Howard or Harden, it’ll be needed. The same can be said for the Clippers, who have been ridiculed for their lack of depth. Which Jamal Crawford will the Clippers get today? Will Austin Rivers play under control? The reserves may play minimal minutes, but they’ll need to be reliable once they’re out there.
– James Harden’s mindset: Harden has been strangely passive at times during this series, but he’ll need a pinch more of assertiveness today if Houston plans on advancing to the WCF. We all know the story, Harden was glued to the bench at the end of Game 6. Today him sitting on the pine may be a rarity, so expect him to do whatever he can to land the Rockets in the winner’s circle when he’s out there.
– Howard/Jordan staying on the floor: These guys are both way too valuable to be neutralized by foul trouble. Whoever is able to make their impact felt the most may propel their team to victory.