I've been on a pretty good roll with recent predictions. On March 10 I wrote "the Clippers will close the regular season as the hottest team in the Western Conference [and] will enter the post-season as no worse than the third seed." I was wrong when I said they might close the season on a 15-1 run -- the run turned out only to be 14-1. My bad.
Heading into the first round against San Antonio, I was pretty lonely in predicting that the Clippers would beat the Spurs. I came within a couple of microns on DeAndre Jordan's left hand of being correct that the Clippers would win in six. But even with the Clippers down 3-2 and facing elimination after a brutal Game 5 loss, I said the Clippers could still win. Why? Because I felt they were the better team, and the better team usually (not always, but usually) wins these things.
I did NOT however see Game 6 of the Houston series coming. Who could have?
How unlikely was the Rockets comeback? You've seen some graphs, you watched the game, you get it. For that 31 point turnaround to happen in 15 minutes -- with James Harden on the bench and Corey Brewer and Josh Smith combining for 29 fourth quarter points -- well it goes beyond unlikely. But this is why we love sports. You cannot predict something like that.
When Justin Russo started fretting about the situation late in the third quarter, I reassured him via twitter. Don't worry I said, the game really is over. We'd watched Houston quit several times in the series -- there wasn't any reason to think they wouldn't quit again.
But they didn't quit, and while Brewer and Smith went into NBA2K15 cheat code mode, the Clippers went into Arctic mode, missing everything. Yes, Houston's defense was good -- no, it wasn't 18 misses in 22 shots good. The Clippers missed shot after shot, including a dunk and several two footers.
I'm going to move on to Game 7 soon, I promise, but before I do, let me drop some math on you. Josh Smith is a .285 career three point shooter. Corey Brewer is .290. And those numbers are relevant -- neither has shot appreciably better than that in their recent career. They combined to make five of seven three pointers in the fourth quarter on Thursday night. Bernoulli tells me that the probability of something with a 29% success rate to be successful five times out of seven is about 2% [(7 choose 5)(.295)(.712)] -- in other words, just the three pointers alone were a one in fifty occurrence.
But enough about the past -- let's look to the future. Moving on from losses is a fact of life in the NBA. The Clippers suffered defeats in round 1 as well of course. From the humiliating no-show of Game 3 to the brutal oh-so-close of Game 5, and each time they came back and won a crucial follow up game. Thursday's loss was different still -- a team that held a 19 point lead at home in a close out game should be watching film of the next opponent, let's face it -- but in a way it's as easy to move on from as was Game 3. There's really no way to explain it, so don't even try. Just go out and win Game 7.
I said the Clippers would win Games 6 and 7 against the Spurs based on my belief that they were the better team. In that case, it was a close call. Clippers and Rockets? In my opinion, it's not even close -- the Clippers are the far superior team, despite the fact that the series stands 3-3. And because the Clippers are the better team, I expect them to win Game 7.
It's not as if home court has mattered all that much (it seems to matter less in the postseason in general). The Clippers won two out of three in San Antonio in Round 1 -- they've already won in Houston as well. And let's face it -- there's nothing the least bit sustainable about the say Houston won Game 6. I mean, if Kevin McHale chooses to bench James Harden, I'll revise that statement. But he won't.
If the Clippers continue to miss three pointers by the bushelfull (they've missed over three-fourths of their 65 attempts, most of them uncontested, in the last two games) then of course they could lose. But I'm going to assume that the law of averages is going to take over and they'll make some shots. There's also the simple matter that it's very difficult, and very rare, for a good team to suffer three straight losses to the same opponent.
I wish they weren't in this situation of course -- but I expect the Clippers to win and fly off to Oakland to start this crazy process all over again.