There are moments as a fan that only happen because of one characteristic: loyalty. Never give up on your team, no matter how steep the mountain looks. And if they fail to climb it? So be it.
I should know this. A decade a go during the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady days, T-Mac went and put his team on his back. Houston was down 74-64 with less than a minute to go.
"I have school early tomorrow. I'm just going to shower and hit the hay."
Wrong move, O'Brien.
Ten minutes later I walk back in the room and McGrady was swamped by his teammates with his hands extended, lying on the court. The basketball phenom had managed to tally 13 points in 35 seconds of game time with four threes, with one being part of a four point play. Houston won, the final three by T-Mac coming with 1.6 seconds left over three Spurs.
From then on I'd vow never to leave a game, no matter how daunting the situation looked.
Fast forward to Thursday night.
Game 6 was tight for most of the first half, with the Clippers edging Houston, 64-62. Hope was not lost for the Rockets...but they were in the building which saw them get walloped by an average of 126-97 in games 3 and 4. To say there was a stigma for the Rockets and its fans is putting it mildly. If this team got down by double digits at all...especially in the second half- it'd be very easy to write them off.
It started harmlessly enough in the third, with JJ Redick drilling a three to put LA up 67-62. Then it started to add up..quickly. DeAndre Jordan blocked Dwight. Barnes hit a layup. Griffin hit a jumper. Before Houston blinked, they were down 71-62 with not even two minutes gone in the second half.
The Clippers did what they had done all series at home. They moved the ball, frustrated Houston into silly fouls, and Chris Paul was the maestro of LA's orchestra. With 2:34 left, the former Demon Deacon put his team up 89-70 with a jumper. Houston would close to within 13 by the end of the third. But 13 points on the road to this Clippers squad? Might as well make it fifty.
It was actually Houston's fiftieth time playing in a playoff game down by at least 10 points heading into the fourth. Their record in the previous 49?
SportsCenter's Robert Flores (an admitted Rockets fan) even casually mentioned the game, yet told viewers "it looks like the Clippers will be in the Western Conference Finals."
Game 5 saw Houston make all the right moves, never once giving up the lead after taking it in the first quarter. They looked sharp, confident and with purpose at home. But everyone expected that all to fade away under the bright lights of Hollywood. Except when the lights got brighter and the stage bigger, it wasn't who the usual suspects who brought the Rockets out of their basketball coma.
Ok, so they won. Obviously the comeback had to be because James Harden went off, and Dwight Howard was getting alley-ooped left and right. As I said yesterday:
"Los Angeles hasn't been kind to Howard in recent times, but tonight he and Harden must step up facing elimination."
What did you just say? Neither Harden nor Howard managed to score a field goal in the entire fourth quarter? Yeah, sure. You mean to tell me the two players Morey aligned stars for didn't have a direct effect offensively for Houston?
::gets handed box score::
Corey Brewer and Josh Smith?!
The duo rang up 29 points (15/14 respectively, 9-13 from the field) in the 4th.
Well, stats don't lie. Houston outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the final act of Thursday night, and none of it due to Harden or Howard offensively. But Howard did throw in 20 points and 21 boards, coming up big on the glass in the fourth. They finished on a 49-18 run in the final 14:34 of the game, 25-5 in the final 6:47. To add to the numbers, Houston went 7-11 from three, holding LAC to 5-27 from the field. After Jordan dominated the Rockets earlier in the series on the boards, Houston responded by out-rebounding the Clippers 24-8 in the fourth.
Josh Smith reigned clutch shot after clutch shot, as well as a key block towards the end. The tide had turned, and all of LA was reeling.
"Are we really getting beaten by Josh Smith at home in a game that could send us to the Western Conference Finals?" I know this because Mike Tirico reminded viewers once every five seconds.
Trust me, I didn't believe it either. Smith looked...smoove. I mean, smooth. There was no awkwardness to his shot. It looked bad at other times during the game, but you'd never have guessed he was a a player written off by the Pistons in December.
Once Houston went up 10 with a little over a minute ago, the writing was on the wall for LA and its fans. There would in fact be a Game 7 in Houston on Sunday. And while 3-1 after two blowouts looked more than favorable for the Clippers.. a Game 7 on the road to the second seed in the West does not. No matter how good Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick and Austin Rivers have been- momentum has now shifted to the Rockets.
Houston proved they can get their home crowd to get behind them, after blowing the Clippers out 124-103 in Game 5. They might be the two seed, but according to the majority of fans- they are the underdogs. This season is eerily reminiscent of Houston's '95 squad- an overachieving 6 seed who overcame a 20 point deficit at one point, and went on to defeat the top 3 seeds in the West on their way to an NBA Championship. One of which was the Suns, after trailing 3-1.
As I wrote before, the Rockets have been overachieving all year. If this was any other Rockets team, they would have folded by now- especially on the road. I shouldn't be here writing about a win. I should be writing about what could or should have been.
But the Rockets did win, and Sunday they'll look to continue their improbable run in the 2015 playoffs.
And no matter what, I'll be watching it through its entirety.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.