Clippers vs Rockets

The Los Angeles Clippers somehow let this series turn into a game 7 situation, and the Houston Rockets will try to make it three wins in a row, hoping that James Harden finally delivers on the biggest occasion he’s had to perform in since joining the team.

All eyes are on him. Not just because he’s the star and this is a home game, but because he’s been having trouble in this series. The big comeback from a 19-point deficit in game 6? Harden was on the bench for most of it. He did score 23 points, but sat almost the entire fourth bench on the floor. Illness? Maybe. Or maybe Kevin McHale finally got the guts to do the right thing and bench him for not playing well.

Harden was just 5-of-20 from the field in game 6. He’s shooting just 40.8% from the field in this series. Yes, he’s averaging 24.5 points and 8.2 assists a night, but if it wasn’t for Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Dwight Howard, Harden would be already in the midst of planning his summer vacation. There has to more than relying on officials to bail him out with foul calls. Harden needs to stop with the hero ball, and be the responsible, balanced leader the Rockets are waiting for him to become.

The Clippers? They’ve been playing the better basketball in this series, but there are too many highs and lows. Austin Rivers has too many moments when he looks like he doesn’t belong in this league. Jamal Crawford is shooting just 34.1% from the field. DeAndre Jordan has his obvious foul shooting problem. Matt Barnes switches on and off. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have been mostly great, but they’re not going to take on the Rockets alone.

It’ll be interesting to see how they come out in game 7 and whether or not that great collapse in the previous one has any effect. There was no explanation to what the Rockets did. It wasn’t an adjustment that created some impossible matchup for the Clippers to handle. It was a combination of insane shot making, complacency and eventually desperation, while Smith and Brewer played like basketball is too easy for them.

At this point, as the cliche says, there are no surprises. Simply two teams that know each other very well, and know what works and what doesn’t. It comes down to execution, and playing not pulling away from the guaranteed things or trying to do things they can’t. Suspects? Harden, Smith, Jason Terry, Matt Barnes, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford. The team that gets the more balanced performance from their set of guys we just mentioned is going to play the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals.

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