Clippers down to last chance to close Rockets out at home
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chris Paul has never reached the conference finals in his 10-year All-Star career. Neither have the Los Angeles Clippers. Now the pressure is on them to make franchise history together.
They failed to get it done in Game 5, losing 124-103 to the Rockets in Houston — the third straight game of the series to be decided by 20 points or more. The Clippers were on the winning end of the first two blowouts, both at home.
They lead the series 3-2 and will try to finish off the Rockets on Thursday night at Staples Center.
If the Clippers can’t do it, they’ll face a deciding Game 7 on the road.
Twice before the franchise has been one win away from closing out a series to reach the conference finals only to lose. It happened at Phoenix in 2005-06 and at Washington in 1974-75.
But those previous failures don’t weigh on this bunch.
“It’s about us, not about the Clippers franchise and all that,” Paul said recently. “It’s about us in that locker room and we’ve just got to go out there and play.”
Owning a series lead and closing out an opponent is rarely easy because the other team doesn’t want to go home, either. And then there’s human nature.
“When you have a game in the bank, sometimes you don’t play with the urgency, fight and desperation that you should. You have to play like that every game, you can’t choose,” coach Doc Rivers said on a conference call Wednesday, when the team took the day off.
“Usually the teams are evenly matched and if there’s a little bit of an edge, it’s going to go to the team that plays the hardest.”
That was the Rockets on Tuesday night behind a trio of 20-plus-point scorers. James Harden had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists despite a cold, Trevor Ariza added 22 points and Dwight Howard 20. They attacked the basket from the opening tip and got back to their high-scoring ways after failing to top 100 points in their previous two losses.
“They got every loose ball, they made every tough play and they got every tough rebound,” Rivers said. “That’s something we have to correct.”
On the plane back to Los Angeles, instead of playing cards or listening to music, most of the Clippers re-watched the game.
“That was a good sign,” Rivers said.
Nagging injuries have started to surface on a team that came into the playoffs healthy.
Matt Barnes, already bothered by a shoulder injury, tweaked his ankle and Austin Rivers sustained a hip pointer after falling hard to the court late in Tuesday’s game, although the elder Rivers had no updates on either player. Glen Davis hurt his ankle in the first-round win over the defending NBA champion Spurs, which has limited his minutes off the bench.
Paul had 22 points and 10 assists playing nearly 35 minutes, a sign that the hamstring injury that kept him out of the series’ first two games may be subsiding. He won’t be under any restrictions on his minutes Thursday, when the Clippers again try to reach an elusive milestone in their checkered history.
“That’s all we’ll focus on is that game,” Rivers said. “The key is winning the series.”