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Wednesday, 03 June 2015 16:36

The history facing the Clippers and Rockets in this Game 7

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Chris PaulBlake Griffin, and the Los Angeles Clippers as an organization have never been to the conference finals. It's been nearly two decades since the Houston Rockets have made it to the conference finals, and the acquisitions of James Harden and Dwight Howardhappened so the franchise could return to the days of being Clutch City. As we enter Sunday's Game 7 in this Western Conference semifinals series, layers of historical context surround this showdown in past, present and future tenses.

The Houston Rockets have already seemingly done the improbable. In the 66 years of the NBA's existence, this matchup is just the 30th time in which a team down 3-1 in the series has forced a Game 7. The Rockets were embarrassed in the second half of Game 1 and after winning an ugly Game 2 that saw a lot of free throws, they were blown out in the next two games in Los Angeles. It seemed like they were dead in the water as the Clippers sailed ahead in the playoffs into territory the franchise had never been to.

Instead, Houston managed to fight back by dominating on their home floor in Game 5 and having an improbable comeback in Game 6 led by Josh Smith and Corey Brewer while Harden sat the entire fourth quarter. The Clippers were 97 percent certain to win with just a couple minutes left in the third quarter and the lead approaching 20 points or more. Instead, they made just four shots in the final period and now find themselves in a brutal Game 7 environment on the road.

Normally, this would be a near certainty that the Rockets would win Game 7 because they're at home. In NBA playoff history, the home team is 97-23 in Game 7 contests. That's a ridiculous winning percentage of 80.6 percent. The odds are very much in the favor of Kevin McHale's team. However, trying to win that third game in a row is a very hard thing to do once you've gone down 3-1 in the series.

Of the previous 29 teams that have gone up in the series 3-1 and been taken to a Game 7, 21 of those teams have gone on to win the series in Game 7. Predictably, it's much easier for the higher seed to complete this series victory at home in Game 7 because those higher seeds that led 3-1 in the series and been pushed to a Game 7 have won 14 out of 16 times. That doesn't apply to the Clippers though.

The Clippers are the 14th lower seed to go up 3-1 in a series and get taken to a seventh game on the road. Those lower seeds are 7-6 in road Game 7's. The previous three lower seeds to take the series to 3-1 before a Game 7 was forced won that Game 7 on the road. Even when it comes to getting two of those final three games at home for the higher seed down 3-1 in the series, getting that third straight victory has proven to be quite difficult.

The 4-seed Dallas Mavericks in 2006 managed to take down the 1-seed Spurs in San Antonio in Game 7 of the second round. A 119-111 overtime victory led by Dirk Nowitzki's 37 points and 27 points by Jason Terry were too much for San Antonio despite Tim Duncan's 41 points.

The 5-seed Chicago Bulls managed to win a road Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets in 2013, although I'm not sure how much of a disadvantage having the 5-seed can be considered when facing the 4-seed. Regardless, the Bulls managed to avoid blowing their own 3-1 series lead with a 99-91 victory on the road over the Nets.

The example that can ring true the most for this Clippers team would be the one that happened in 2012. The 4-seed Memphis Grizzlies dropped a home Game 7 against the 5-seed Clippers, led by Chris Paul. It was a truly atrocious game with a final score of 82-72, as CP3, Nick Young and Kenyon Martin were the only Clippers players to score in double figures that night. Griffin scored just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting and DeAndre Jordanhad zero points on 0-of-2 from the field.

While those two had horrendous games in such a big contest, they're much improved players now. Jordan has blossomed into a good defensive presence and someone that has had a monster impact (plus-16.7 points per 100 possessions on the court, minus-18.1 points per 100 possessions off the court). Griffin has become arguably the best player in these playoffs so far, averaging 26.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists while making 55.3 percent of his shots.

Houston, a team led by Harden's incredible scoring feats all season long, will have to draw on the last higher seed to go down 3-1 and win three straight games to close out the series. Back in 2006, the 7-seed Los Angeles Lakers behind Kobe Bryant's incredible scoring exploits went up 3-1 on the 2-seed Phoenix Suns. In a series that was full of big shots, clotheslines, and drama, the Suns came back to win the final three games of the series, including their Game 7 at home.

They accomplished this with a blowout victory in Game 5, a close overtime victory in Game 6 and then a huge 31-point win in Game 7 as they ran the Lakers off the floor. The Rockets had their big Game 5 win, a dramatic Game 6 comeback with the big fourth quarter and now they have a chance to complete that third victory in convincing fashion at home.

Regardless of which team wins Sunday's Game 7, the ramifications could end up being historical not only for either organization, but also for many of the players and their legacies.

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