Leading Off

Rockets show heart when most counted them out

After the Los Angeles Clippers roughed up Houston in the third and fourth games of their Western Conference semifinal series to take a 3-1 lead, the consensus among a group of basketball fans was that the Rockets – especially Dwight Howard – were too soft and lacked the fire to compete against the Clippers.

The fans already were analyzing matchups and predicting story lines for a Warriors-Clippers showdown, with the winner likely advancing to play the Cleveland LeBrons for the NBA title.

Even after the Rockets showed some spunk, beating the Clippers 124-103 in Game 5 in Houston, no one figured they had a chance with the series shifting to Los Angeles for Game 6.

But folks who turned off Thursday’s game when the Clippers were seemingly coasting to their first Western Conference finals with a 19-point lead missed an epic comeback by the Rockets. They outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter for a 119-107 victory.

While most fans expected the Rockets to roll over when they fell so far behind, Houston continued fighting back.

“We kept believing,” Howard said. “We never gave up on each other.”

Howard had 20 points and 21 rebounds, and James Harden scored 23 points, but Corey Brewer and Josh Smith fueled the comeback.

In the fourth quarter, while Howard scored just one point (and missed five other free throws) and Harden appeared only briefly, Brewer scored 15 points and Smith 14 to spark the Rockets.

Houston made seven three-pointers in the fourth quarter and held the Clippers to 18.2 percent shooting (4 of 22) in the quarter and without a field goal in the final 6:44 until Chris Paul made a meaningless three-pointer at the end of the game.

With the series shifting back to Houston for Sunday’s Game 7, the Rockets have a chance to make history. Only eight teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win an NBA playoff series; the last time was in 2006.

It’s tempting to write off the Clippers after such a shocking loss, but they’ve won all three Game 7s they’ve played during the Blake Griffin-Paul era.

The way this series has played out, nothing would surprise us.

Tom Couzens: (916) 326-1097, @tomcouzens



NBA playoffs, Clippers at Rockets, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 10: The winner advances, and the loser goes home.


@RattoCSN (Ray Ratto): “I imagine Ralph Lawler standing on the scorer’s table screaming obscenities and flipping off Clippers as they leave floor.”


May 17, 1998: David Wells pitches the 13th perfect game in modern major-league history as the New York Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0.