Where were you when the Rockets saved their season last night?
I was on my couch, laptop in front of me, gathering notes to eulogize the 2014-2015 Rockets season. The team looked lifeless again in Staples Center in a runaway third quarter for the Clippers, James Harden couldn't find his shooting stroke and he and Dwight Howard were on the verge of losing their temper.
Were you like a number of Rockets fans on Twitter who said they were going to bed? Or were you watching, in disbelief, as a team without its MVP came back on the road for the biggest comeback in Rockets playoff history?
In 49 previous tries, the Rockets lost when entering the fourth quarter down 10 points or more. No. 50 was something we'll remember forever.
The Rockets were down 89-72 with 1:33 left in the third quarter when Harden checked out of the game. Blake Griffin had already made a ludicrous 180-degree, no-look layup and gotten away with traveling, fouls and screaming in Corey Brewer's face when Brew was on the ground. Neither he nor Chris Paul missed a shot in the third quarter.
Then, something happened. With Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith and Dwight Howard on the floor, the Rockets played harder than they had all season. The defensive rotations looked tighter. The offense went from an array of turnovers and ill-advised shots to a patient, motion-based attack.
Then, ridiculous things happened. Smith, Brewer and Terrence Jones combined to shoot 4-40 on three-pointers in the first five games of this series. They combined to shoot 6-8 in the last 12 minutes and 40 seconds of Game 6. Ridiculous things.
Brewer was a +32 in 25 minutes. Smith scored 19 points on 9 shots. Jason Terry shut down Chris Paul in the fourth quarter.
Let me repeat that: Jason Terry shut down Chris Paul in the fourth quarter.
J-Smoove shut down Griffin -- really shut him down -- who turned into an unrecognizably tentative player down the stretch. He caught the ball and immediately gave it up, and considering how vocal he was about getting the ball in the third quarter, it sure said a lot about his mindset.
But enough about the Clippers collapsing. Thursday night was history. Dwight Howard got himself a 20-21 game and kept himself out of foul trouble. He played 40 minutes on his back and knees and was clearly tired at the end, but he's a stud as we know.
But the stars of the game was the Headband of Brothers: Smith, Brewer and Terry. Their energy and contributions on both ends of the court were too much for the Clippers. Three guys who, last June, were in Detroit, Minnesota and Sacramento, respectively, have formed a unit of startling chemistry, energy and composure. They all play better with each other, they're in perfect sync on the fast break and trust each other on defense.
Brewer scored 15 in the fourth quarter, matching the Clippers' point total by himself. Smith hit three three-pointers in the most crucial stretch of the game, maybe the loudest "no-no-no-YES" to have ever come out of my mouth when he stepped back for a three in front of DeAndre Jordan. I thought he threw away a possession the game's most critical moment.
His third three-pointer and his brilliant back-door pass to Brewer for a game-tying dunk were leap-out-of-your-chair moments. The Rockets are paying him peanuts this year, and we said he was the Least Valuable Player of the first four games. Just like against the Mavericks, when Smoove plays well, the Rockets win.
As Rockets fans over the last 20 years, we have been systematically trained to expect the worst. After all, it's been 18 years since the Rockets have been the Western Conference finals, and now they're one game away from returning. In Games 1, 3 and 4 of this series, it seemed our training had come in handy.
As hard as it is to break from that pessimism, what reason has this Rockets team given us to think they'll give up? When they clinched the Southwest Division by spanking the Jazz by 30 on the last night of the regular season? When they lost Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones for months and kept winning?
These are not the same old Rockets. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, this team has more fight, and less quit, than the average bear. It took some ridiculous things to make sure it happened, but the Rockets just completed one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history.
Enjoy this one, and remember where you were. It's games like this why we're fans. And it's games like this when we are handsomely rewarded.