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With season on line, Rockets pull off the improbable

Stunning comeback forces Game 7 on Sunday

POSTED: May 15, 2015 9:34 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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— The avalanche actually begins with the first few snowflakes.

A little Terrence Jones put-back off a missed jumper by Corey Brewer. A sneaky, darting block by Brewer on what looked like a sure layup by Austin Rivers. A steal by Jason Terry and back-to-back 3-pointers by Josh Smith and the ground starts to shift beneath your feet.

"You could just sense it, the bench could feel it," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "I could feel it. I could see it in their eyes. I would see that they caught a rhythm."

NBA.com/Stats: Inside the Rockets' comeback

And soon they were dancing a conga line on the heads of the helpless Clippers.

There are wins and then there are wins that can define a team or a player or even a season.

Let's not get too far ahead in the narrative, because the Rockets still have to return home and win Game 7 just to get out of the series.

But this out-of-the-blue 119-107 win on Thursday night at Staples Center was breathtakingly special. The numbers say it was the first time in franchise history that the team had ever come from more than 10 points down in the fourth quarter to win a playoff game. The 19-point rally in the fiery, furious final 15 minutes was the largest postseason comeback by the Rockets since they were down 20 in Game 1 at Orlando in the 1995 NBA Finals.

It was an awesome, jaw-dropping spectacle in an unstoppable force of nature kind of way. Dare we say it — Son of Clutch City?

It was twenty years ago this spring when their nerveless, irrepressible predecessors kept right on walking the tightrope without a net to a second consecutive championship and this was the first time in the intervening two decades that the echoes had been awakened.

There are wins and then there are wins that can define a team or a player or even a season.

– Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

When Chris Paul drove through traffic to drop in a reverse layup with 2:38 left in the third quarter, the Clippers led 89-70 and there was every reason to believe the Rockets' season was done.

Except one.

"There were 15 minutes left and it's not over till that clock says zero, zero, zero," said Trevor Ariza. "So you keep playing."

They played in the manner that McHale always talks about, like they're running downhill and their momentum becomes a giant boulder that flattens everything in its path. They were Jones sniffing around the basket for big and little plays. They were Dwight Howard coming back to the scene of his disappearing act four nights earlier and owning the paint with 20 points and 21 rebounds. They were Smith and Brewer both shrugging off a horrid-shooting series by making shots and making plays for 19 points apiece and making stops at the other end on defense. They were Ariza using his long arms to disrupt the Clippers. They were 37-year-old Jason Terry inserting himself into every nook and cranny to make something happen.

Most shockingly, what the Rockets weren't was a team led by the regular season MVP candidate James Harden. Perhaps still suffering the effects of a cold, he shot just 5-for-20 on the night and spent the entire comeback as a bearded cheerleader on the bench.

"Yeah, I was thinking about putting him back in the game," McHale said. "But those guys earned the right to finish that game, one way or the other. After a while, he had sat there long enough and those guys had a good rhythm and they kept getting stops and I'm like, 'I'm just going to let them go.' "

It was almost incomprehensible to watch the finish and believe that these were the same Rockets that virtually curled up in the fetal position to lose Games 3 and 4 of this series on the same floor by 25 and 33 points last weekend. They showed all of the poise that most everyone thought they'd lost and all of the fight that had been curiously missing for almost the entire series.

"Our faith was tested tonight," said Howard. "And instead of folding, we kept it together."

They surged when they could have stumbled. They rose up when they could have ran off toward summer.

"It's simple," said Ariza. "We don't want to go home yet."

"We want to keep playing," Brewer said. "We believe, we really believe, that we've got more inside of us. This is a goal, of course, to win this series. But we've got bigger goals."

It might be the first time since the playoffs began nearly four weeks ago that you could see your way to actually believing them.

You saw Howard challenging practically every driving attempt that the Clippers made at the basket coming down the stretch. You saw Brewer taking the ball into his hands, turning the corner like a race car on two wheels and finishing with a flush and two hands hanging from the rim. You saw Smith trying to exorcise all of those past playoff demons from a decade of never getting past the second round of the playoffs by rising up, stroking in another trey and then punching at the air as if he were shadow boxing with Floyd Mayweather, sitting at courtside, only it was J-Smoove who was "Money" this time.

"What I've learned through my career in this league," said Terry, "is that you concentrate on the little things. Make one play here and one play there."

Then listen for the roar of the avalanche.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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