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Game 7: A moment of truth for Clippers, Rockets

For Los Angeles an epic collapse or Houston an epic comeback

POSTED: May 16, 2015 7:57 PM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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— Comeback or collapse. Rally or rebuke.

History comes in different packaging.

Just ask the Confederate States of America.

So the Rockets and Clippers get it on one more time Sunday to finally end a playoff series that has had many wild swings.

One team is going to trudge off at Toyota Center knowing that it left an opportunity or three out on the court over the last fortnight.

Most egregiously:

— The Rockets couldn't take advantage of All-Star point guard Chris Paul's absence with a hamstring injury and dropped Game 1 at home.

— The Clippers couldn't make a 19-point lead hold up for 15 measly minutes in Game 6 at home and sent a chance to reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history crashing like Grandma's fine china to the kitchen floor.

In a series chock full of blowouts and memorable mostly for deliberate fouls on centers DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard that have often pushed the final horn past midnight in every slice of the country that isn't in the Pacific Time zone, Game 7 steps out into the glaring light of day as the only one left in the conference semifinals.

"This is the last series to finish out the final four so...just go out there, compete, play hard and put on a show," said Rockets guard James Harden. "It's still the game. You still have to go into it and play. You can't get too excited. You can't get pumped up. You have to be level-headed."

But it's often more complicated than just saying that in the only game of a series where both sides are simultaneously dangling over the desperate edge of elimination.

"It's hard when your juices are flowing and you understand the magnitude of the game," said Rockets forward Josh Smith. "That's kind of easier said than done. (Sunday) is going to be a hype game and we definitely have to be out there and control the emotions that we are going to have and the juices are flowing and kind of channel it and making it into positive plays."

History and the home court gives the Rockets a decided leg up before the opening tip. Road teams have won just 24 of 119 Game 7s in NBA playoff history and only eight teams ever have come back from the 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series that Houston is attempting. The last time it happened was in 2006.

However, the Clippers faced the same situation in 2012, letting a 3-1 lead over the Grizzlies turn into a 3-3 tie and throat-tightening time. But they went into Memphis and won Game 7. The Clippers have also won seventh game showdowns last season against the Warriors and in the first round this season over the defending champion Spurs. In Las Vegas, the odds makers have the Clippers as a two-point favorite.

"Y'all mad, too," the Clippers Glen Davis shouted at the travel-weary Los Angeles media when the team arrived at the Toyota Center on Saturday afternoon.

The challenge for the Clippers is to channel that anger and the funereal remorse that hung over their locker room following the Game 6 meltdown into productive energy, better concentration and a commitment to play through all four quarters. While running around the floor without a clue late on Thursday night, the Clippers took 18 shots in the fourth quarter and did not manage to get a single offensive rebound. As Dan Woike of the Orange County Register wryly noted on Twitter, that's not easy to do.

Coach Doc Rivers says the two reasons for the Clippers' Game 6 cratering was they eased up and couldn't handle the pressure of the series close-out situation.

"The good news for us is we have a chance to win (Sunday) and that game's forgotten about," he said. "We move on."

For their part, the Rockets can't afford another 5-for-20 shooting effort from their erstwhile MVP candidate Harden and might not want to dig another 87-69 hole and expect the Clippers to throw them one more rope.

"Last game was a blessing," Howard said. "It felt like Angels in the Outfield, except for basketball. It's unbelievable. Nothing but God.

"Driving in today, the parking lot guy, stopped me. He said, 'I don't know how you guys did it.' We're nothing but blessed and thankful to be in this opportunity. We're going to stay humble and try to get the game."

The Clippers have to understand that they're the team that built that 19-point lead in the first place and play like it, turning the page on Game 6 and tuning out the buzz and furor that will inhabit the Rockets' home court.

"We've got to come out and play," said power forward Blake Griffin, who has been the most consistent player for either side in the series. "There's nothing more to it. Game 7 is Game 7 -- it's about who wants it more. I expect us to be ready."

Rockets coach Kevin McHale can draw on the experiences of his Hall of Fame career and try to impart them to his team. His Boston Celtics rallied from being down 3-1 to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 1981.

"I think the heart of the whole thing is that you are excited to play the game," McHale said. "It's another chance to play basketball. It's Game 7. It's fun. That's what you live for. You live for those moments to go out there and play basketball and there is a joy and a calm that comes over you when you do something really, really well. When you do something you've done since you were a little kid. You find that spot and you play well.

"It's up to every individual to find that spot where there is just joy in playing that as you get older, you never do that again. It's been a long, long time since I played, but I still remember the feeling, the butterflies and the anxiousness of can't waiting and just wanting to get going. When you have that, good things happen."

Or bad things.

Comeback or collapse. Rally or rebuke.

As the saying goes, the winners write the history.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.