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NBA Shootaround: Red Glare

Trying to make sense of Houston’s crazy Game 6 comeback.

So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You’ll find takes on moments you might’ve missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.

Nobody Knows Anything

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game SixAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Chris Ryan: You want to know how mind-altering that Burning Man festival of a basketball game was? In one quarter — in just 12 minutes of game time — my deeply held opinions on no fewer than six players and two coaches were pretty much shattered. And I love my deeply held opinions.

• I thought the Rockets were only capable of blowing teams out or getting blown out. I didn’t think there was a middle ground. I thought when the going got tough, the tough went out to dinner. Turns out they have a five-man lineup of Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Dwight Howard that does a very decent imitation of the 2009 Magic. And those five guys HATE QUITTING. They came back from 19 down with three minutes remaining in the third quarter, going on a 24-2 run.

• I thought Blake Griffin was 1994 Charles Barkley, but all I saw in the fourth quarter was a series of midair passes when a shot was right there.

• I thought James Harden was a viable MVP candidate. Turns out he’s a man with a beard sitting on a bench. I can find that in most public parks.

• I thought Jason Terry was all mouth, some headband, and a little game. Turns out he’s junior varsity Paul Pierce, and he has a nice seasonal sublet inside Chris Paul’s head.

• I thought Corey Brewer and Josh Smith were Corey Brewer and Josh Smith. Turns out they are Corey Brewer and LeBron James. 

• I thought Dwight Howard was composed entirely of farts and Skittles. Turns out he is Bill Russell. I thought he was quick to sit on the bench, smirking at his inability to hit free throws or stay out of foul trouble. He had 20 points and 21 boards. He was the Night’s Watch. Turns out he wanted this one. Turns out he does not love L.A. 

• I thought Kevin McHale was ghost-riding the bench, just trying to get through this embarrassment of a series with his job intact. Turns out he decided to go out like Sonny Landham in Predator, using a bunch of role players down the stretch. With Harden sitting on the bench, McHale basically said, If I’m going, I go my way.

• I thought the Clippers were headed to the Western Conference finals, and the Rockets were going to have to take a long look in the mirror and wonder if they had the right two superstars to make a Finals run. Now the Clippers have to win a Game 7 on the road. Now you have to wonder if you can pay DeAndre Jordan his market value. Now you have to wonder how great Blake Griffin has to play before he believes he can be “Blake Griffin” in the fourth quarter. Now you have to wonder if Vinny Del Negro is somewhere singing the “CAN WE GET MUCH HIGHER!?” part of “Dark Fantasy.” God, I hope he is. 

• I thought Mad Men would be the most exciting thing about Sunday. Turns out I was wrong.

Forget It, Jake. It’s Houston.

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AAU

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game SixStephen Dunn/Getty Images

Danny Chau: Dwight Howard got called for two fouls in the span of five seconds in the first quarter. He asked to stay in and was granted his wish. He fouled only twice after that, and he got his money’s worth on his third. He played the entire second half and solidified a defense that went rabid. Josh Smith turned in the least probable Josh Smith performance ever, and it worked. The Rockets went from detestable to life-affirming in minutes. None of this is getting any easier to process, and the game’s been over for hours now.

I didn’t hear anything about Howard and Smith being AAU teammates on the ESPN broadcast, which is a shame, because last night was the definitive endorsement for the AAU’s continued existence. If we take away anything from that Rockets-Clippers game, it should be that (1) James Harden should not play a single minute in the NBA ever again, and (2) if you find your best friend through AAU ball, you should go through life and Step Brothers the shit out of every job interview you have, because life is just going to be better that way. Miracles don’t happen with your regular friends. They happen with your AAU friends. Never forget that.

Are You Ready for the Western Conference Finals?

Andrew Sharp: Blake Griffin is ready for the Western Conference finals. I’m ready for the Western Conference finals. Let’s do this. We need this.

The Rockets made things interesting for about a half last night, then the Clippers scored 28 points in the third quarter and held the Rockets to 17. It was over. Or: When Blake 360’d his way through the entire Rockets team for a no-look layup, it was over. Once you start getting All-Star Weekend vibes from a playoff game, it’s time to look ahead to the next series.

The Clippers are hitting on all cylind—

Hold on …

Wait …

[Ear-splitting record scratch.]

Are You Ready for Game 7?

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Sharp: They lost???

They lost.

They lost. It would be too mean to sarcastically publish the other nice things I wrote about the Clippers before the fourth quarter. That was before the closeout apocalypse.

They were up 19, at home, in a series-clinching game they had to have. And they blew it. Blake Griffin has gotten a lot of very deserved credit the past few weeks, but whether it was against the Spurs, Game 2 of this Rockets series, or last night, he sure does have a tendency to freeze in the fourth quarter. Whether he wears down or tightens up, he was invisible when the game was falling apart. Chris Paul? He couldn’t have been better carrying this team against the Spurs in Game 7. Not last night.

I’m looking at this whole Clippers team like Derrick Rose’s son.

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The Rockets deserve credit for hitting shots down the stretch, but that was more collapse than comeback. Everyone on L.A. got tentative. After a Paul layup with just under seven minutes left, the Clippers went scoreless until the final minute. By then they were down 10. They were outscored 40-15 in the final quarter, nobody wanted the ball except for CP3, and Blake couldn’t score at all (0-for-5 in the fourth). I’m describing all of this as literally as possible because no description could be more incredible than what actually happened. Also, beyond sketching out the details, I’m pretty much speechless.