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Clippers-Rockets Game 7 Preview: We Love You, Guys

After a demoralizing Game 6 collapse, the Los Angeles Clippers must pick themselves up off the mat and play a Game 7 in Houston against the Rockets. Will they improve to 4-0 in Game 7's with Chris Paul or come up short of franchise history?

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

May 17, 2015, 12:30 PM
Toyota Center (Houston, Texas)
ABC, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Series Schedule
Tied at 3-3
Game 1 - Clippers 117, Rockets 101
Game 2 - Rockets 115, Clippers 109
Game 3 - Clippers 124, Rockets 99
Game 4 - Clippers 128, Rockets 95
Game 5 - Rockets 124, Clippers 103
Game 6 - Rockets 119, Clippers 107
Game 7 - Up Next
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
19-11 East 23-7
37-15 West 33-19
12-4 Division 8-8
30-11 Home 30-11
26-15 Road 26-15
19-22 .500 + 21-21
37-4 - .500 35-5
1-1 OT 5-0
9-1 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jason Terry
J.J. Redick SG James Harden
Matt Barnes SF Trevor Ariza
Blake Griffin PF Josh Smith
DeAndre Jordan C Dwight Howard
Advanced Stats
96.96 (11th of 30) Pace 99.25 (2nd of 30)
109.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 104.2 (12th of 30)
103.0 (15th of 30) DRtg 100.5 (6th of 30)

Patrick Beverley (Out for Season) Wrist

Donatas Motiejunas (Out for Season) Back

K.J. McDaniels (Out) Wrist
Clippers and Rockets tied in season series; 2-2
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
Clippers 102, Rockets 85
Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 110, Rockets 95
Box Score
Rockets 110, Clippers 105
Box Score
Los Angeles
Rockets 100, Clippers 98
Box Score

The Ol’ Rickety Ship
After being on the brink of their first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history, the Los Angeles Clippers collapsed down the stretch and clutched defeat out of the jaws of victory. They’ve effectively blown a 3-1 series lead and now are heading into Houston to try and wrestle a series away that they already had commanding control of. This team is 3-0 in Game 7’s with Chris Paul. They’ll need another huge performance to salvage a series on the brink. If the Clippers win, they’re off to the Western Conference Finals and get a massive monkey off their back yet again. If not, they’ll have a long look in the mirror this offseason.

The Incoming ICBM
If there were ever a team that’s playing with house money, it’s the Houston Rockets right now. After going down by 19 points in Game 6, they rallied back to steal a win while James Harden sat on the bench as a bystander. He was not good, to say the least, in that game and got rescued by his teammates. Neither James Harden nor Dwight Howard made a field goal in the fourth quarter of Houston’s heroic Game 6 comeback and that’s how we’re where we’re at right now. For Houston, a win will complete a near historic comeback after getting shellacked in Game 3 and Game 4. They’ve been outplayed the majority of this series but here they are. Four quarters away from their first Western Conference Finals since 1997.

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Comparison of Key Metrics
The Clippers have the third best Net Rating of any team in the second round thus far. Their +4.9 mark ranks behind the Golden State Warriors (+9.3) and Cleveland Cavaliers (+7.0). The Atlanta Hawks are fourth (+3.2). Those have been the four best teams in the second round and the Clippers just need to replicate their performance from Game 6 but for 48 minutes instead of 36. The Rockets -4.9 Net Rating ranks sixth this round but their most important stat is free throw rate. In the three games they’ve won, they’ve shot at least 38 free throws. In the three games they’ve lost, they never shot more than 31. Getting to the line is a key for them, obviously, so whoever controls that part of the game might win Game 7.

X-Factor (Rockets): Hustle and Heart
In their Game 6 comeback, the energetic duo of Josh Smith and Corey Brewer led the Rockets through sheer randomness and determination. After going just 4-for-30 from three in the first 23 quarters of the series, the duo combined to go 5-for-7 in the fourth and buoyed the Rockets in a time of need. Their hustle, heart, and will led the team. A replication of their performances from both Game 5 and Game 6 would do wonders for the Rockets. As would James Harden actually showing up far more than he did in Game 6. Houston needs to play with the energy of the crowd in order to win and let the trio of Smith, Brewer, and Harden feed off of it.

X-Factor (Clippers): Hit Your Open Shots
If there is one major driving force to take away from the last two games for the Clippers, it’s that they haven’t hit their open shots. Well, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have but no one else has. In the last two contests, Clippers that don’t have a last name of Griffin or Paul are a combined 18-for-61 (29.5 percent) on uncontested shots. Guys not named Paul are 10-for-44 (22.7 percent) on uncontested threes. Quite simply, the Clippers are getting looks but not hitting them. After a series against the Spurs where they weren’t getting frequent open shots, the Clippers have had a ton of them but failed to execute a few times this series. They’re averaging 42.7 uncontested field goal attempts per game and 23.2 uncontested threes per game this series. It’s time for J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, and Austin Rivers to hit those shots again finally.

Will The Superstars Show Up?
In a Game 7, the superstars usually show up because, well, they’re superstars. That’s what they do. In Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs, Blake Griffin had 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Chris Paul had 27 points and 6 assists on 9-for-13 shooting and 5-for-6 from three on one leg. We don’t know if we’re going to get something as heroic again but they’ll need to show up regardless. James Harden and Dwight Howard also must show up for the Rockets if they’re to have any chance. If Harden replicates Game 6 and Howard starts to let his head get the better of him, then the Rockets could be doomed. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the superstars from each side will show up but this is the playoffs. You never know.

Which Center Picks Up Fouls Faster?
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul might be the most prominent players on the Los Angeles Clippers but the most important player for this team during this series is DeAndre Jordan. In the 191 minutes he’s played in the series, the team has a Defensive Rating of 96.7 and Net Rating of +16.7. In the 97 minutes he’s been off the floor, the team has a Defensive Rating of 118.2 and Net Rating of -18.1. In an effort to help the Clippers win, Jordan needs to stay out of foul trouble and hit his free throws whenever the Rockets decide to hack him. On Houston’s side, the Rockets need Dwight Howard. Even though, according to Net Rating, the Rockets have been as bad with Howard on the court as off of it in this series, Howard cleans up a lot of the mess that the guards around him make on the perimeter. Howard is still a solid post-up threat, great finisher on lobs, and dominates the offensive glass. Whichever center can stay out of foul trouble better is the one that’ll help his team more. That’s where Game 7 could be won.

Finish Defensive Possessions
The Clippers can defend. We saw it the first four games of this series and saw it at various times throughout both Game 5 and Game 6. They can lock in, force Houston into some really bad shots, and generally make life a nightmare for the Rockets in the passing lanes. The issue is that the Clippers don’t always finish off defensive possessions by crashing the glass hard as a unit. Quite often they just stand there and wait for the ball to come to them rather than attack it off the glass and get running the other direction. They look to DeAndre Jordan far too much to clean up their mess rather than doing it themselves. Matt Barnes dug down for rebounds a few times in Game 6 but the team, as a whole, has to do it in Game 7. You win as a team, you lose as a team. You have to end possessions with rebounds. No half measures, no half effort. Full effort all the time. You have to want to rebound and you have to want to win.

Keep “The Beard” Off The Line
As was mentioned earlier, keeping the entire Houston Rockets squad off the line is a big deal since that’s what they’re good at. But keeping James Harden off the line is a bigger deal. In the three wins for Houston, Harden is averaging 11.3 free throw attempts per game. In the three losses, it’s 7.0 per game. A big part of containing Harden is just having Jordan on the floor in the first place. In the 149 minutes that Harden has played with Jordan on the floor, he’s shot just 36.7 percent and attempted 17 shots inside the paint while making only 8 of them. He’s also shot 35 free throws, which comes out to 8.46 per 36 minutes. In the 65 minutes he’s played without Jordan on the floor, he’s shooting 47.4 percent and attempted 14 shots inside the paint while making 10 of them. He’s shot 20 free throws, which is an average of 11.07 per 36 minutes. Keeping Harden off the line might be as easy as just having Jordan on the floor but Harden draws fouls with great skill. Got to contain Harden to contain Houston.

Irrational Confidence Is A Thing
Corey Brewer was pretty terrible in this series before Game 5. As was Josh Smith. They both just got a boatload of irrational confidence after their display late in Game 6 and their precursor performance in Game 5. The Clippers will try to combat those two with their own Irrational Confidence Duo in the form of Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. On one side, Crawford has been terrible in the playoffs for large chunks of time and is shooting just 36.3 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from three. He had a good Game 6 and Game 7 against San Antonio before parlaying that into a good Game 1 against Houston. He’s been missing since then, going just 6-for-27 (22.2 percent) from three in the last five games of this series. Rivers has helped the Clippers win at least three playoff games this year and could try to do it again on Sunday afternoon. In the last two games, he’s gone just 5-for-19 overall and 1-for-8 from three. He’s always just one hot streak away and isn’t afraid to shoot. Game 7’s are won with roleplayers. One of these four, or even two of these four, could be the difference. The other guys that could have a huge impact? Jason Terry, Trevor Ariza, Matt Barnes, and J.J. Redick. But they go without saying.

Play Hard, Don’t Overthink, We Love You
No matter what happens on Sunday afternoon, it’s been an awesome ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything other than a title. But that title would be an awesome ride in and of itself, obviously. This team has given us the highest of highs and lowest of lows. They’ve been a joy to watch and I love each and every one of them. This is the best Los Angeles Clippers team in history and I think we should enjoy Sunday’s game, no matter the result, with a smile on our face and love in our heart(s). All we want is the team to play hard, play smart, and play like they know their fans love them. Because we do. We’re always eternal optimists in a pessimistic world. Just one more time, we’d love to see them lace up those sneakers, dunk on some fools, and give us two more weeks of bliss. We love them and we are proud of them. I hope they know that. Go Clippers.