The LA Clippers led big in the third quarter but managed to blow the lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on May 14, 2015.
Hosting Game 6, the Clippers got off to a fast start and looked as though they may cruise to a closeout victory when they took a nine-point lead about halfway through the first quarter. Faced with elimination, however, the Rockets responded on the road with Dwight Howard leading the early charge. Howard would contribute nine points and six rebounds in the first quarter, as the visitors cut the game down to four points at the end of the first quarter.
Along with Howard, Rockets point guard James Harden found his way to the free throw line early in the game. In the first quarter, the NBA MVP runner up hit all four of his free throws. In the second quarter, the 25-year-old would help the Rockets tie the game at 41-41 with 7:06 to play in the first half. Two minutes later, the Rockets would hold their largest lead of the game at six points.
Entering the final two minutes of the first half, the Rockets led by five points, but Houston coach Kevin McHale opted to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers' center would step up to the line and make both free throws. Immediately, Clippers coach Doc Rivers returned the favor by fouling Howard. The Rockets' center would air ball his first attempt and throw up an ugly miss for his second free throw. Suddenly, momentum shifted, and the Clippers carried Jordan's free throws to an 11-2 run.
At the half, the Clippers led by two points, 64-62, and Blake Griffin led all scorers with 22 points. Harden had 21 at the break, but 11 of his points came at the foul line.
In the third quarter, the pressure of the elimination game would get to the visiting Rockets. First, Howard fouled Griffin with a body check that sent the Clippers' forward tumbling to the ground. Moments later, Howard would get a technical foul for reacting to Jordan's contact. As is often the case, the referees saw the reaction, rather than the original offense. Moments later, Harden lost his head and got a technical foul when he pushed Clippers forward Matt Barnes.
As the Rockets lost their composure, the Clippers stepped on the gas. A quick peek at the scoreboard with 3:18 to play in the third quarter had LA ahead by 18 points. The Clippers' edge would peak at 19 points in the period. However, the home team would let the Rockets back into the game, as Houston would enter the final period trailing by 13 points.
In the fourth quarter, the Clippers would show their inexperience and allow the lead to evaporate. With Harden on the bench for a curiously long stretch of time, the Rockets mounted a valiant comeback. With six minutes remaining in the contest, the Rockets had trimmed the lead to only five points. The nervous home crowd suddenly fell quiet.
With four minutes remaining, the Rockets had tied the game at 102-102, while Harden remained on the bench. The trend was easy to see. The Rockets would continue making shots, and the Clippers tightened up and gave the game away.
Over the final 12 minutes, the Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15, as Houston shot 63.2 percent in the final quarter. Howard would finish with 20 points and 21 rebounds, but Josh Smith came through down the stretch. The Rockets' forward scored 14 points in the final quarter, including a trio of three-pointers in the final 12 minutes.
The decisive Game 7 will be in Houston on Sunday.