One week ago, the Rockets were at a crossroads, having just been shellacked by the Clippers 128-95 to go down 3-1 in the Conference Semifinals. Things looked bleak, and there were only two options.
They could fold like a piece of fresh laundry, going out without so much as a whimper, and head into an offseason of uncertainty after a season of playoff underachievement.
Or they could step up, grow together as teammates, and make history.
The Rockets chose option B.
First, they stepped up, as they held their ground at home, pounding the Clippers 124-103 to earn back some of the respect they had lost in the previous two blowouts.
Next, they grew together as teammates in the epic comeback of Game 6. James Harden rode the pine in the fourth quarter and cheered, as mid-season acquisitions Josh Smith and Corey Brewer swam straight into the shark frenzy and rescued the Rockets from the jaws of defeat in a 119-107 shocking victory.
The Rockets overcoming a 19-point second half deficit added to the franchise's playoff lore during this 20th anniversary of the last Houston championship squad and will always remain a defining moment from this season.
And then they made the history books. With their 113-100 wire-to-wire victory over the Clippers at home in Game 7, the Rockets became just the ninth team in NBA history to win a playoff series after falling behind 3-1. They also became the first Rockets team since 1997 to make the Western Conference Finals.
The closeout game was their magnum opus in the playoffs up to this point, their most in-sync team effort to date in the postseason, and stood strongly as a prime example of playing with maximum effort and playing as the sum whole.
When you play the game the right way, good things happen. Whether it was Terrence Jones cleaning up a missed alley-oop to Clint Capela, Dwight Howard scoring off a blocked Corey Brewer shot, or Pablo Prigioni suddenly creating absolute havoc on the defensive inbound, the Rockets were always in the right place at the right time.
The total team effort included 31 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals from Harden, putting a stamp on the game as only an elite player can.
Howard showed up as well, with 16 points and 15 rebounds, scoring on dunks and put backs and patrolling the paint all afternoon.
Trevor Ariza was magnificent and the game's true difference maker, scoring 22 points with 6 threes, mostly off of Harden drive and kicks, and he also played as versatile a defensive performance as there is in this game.
Ariza was matched up with Chris Paul at times, Blake Griffin at others and J.J. Redick still at others. And he defended them all extremely well.
Smith contributed 15 points and some timely shooting and defense on Griffin. Brewer sliced and diced his way to 11 points and played swiss army knife defense similar to Ariza. Prigioni had 3 steals off of inbounds plays, delivered accurate passes, had a clutch three-pointer and provided a steady hand at the point.
Even the Rockets who didn't flash on the stat sheet got involved. Despite scoring only 4 points on 1-6 shooting, Jason Terry helped set the tone for the afternoon by immediately diving for loose balls in the first quarter. Capela hit two timely free throws and had a blocked shot in his 6 minutes covering for Dwight. And Jones helped hold down the second unit with his hard-nosed play and defense.
The Rockets now move on to the Western Conference Finals and a match with the Golden State Warriors, by far the league's best team this season. And while there are several major concerns that need addressed going into the series -- namely the Rockets' current penchant for oodles of turnovers and the fact that they lost the regular season series to the Warriors in a sweep -- take a moment first to enjoy one of life's great pleasures:
Watching your favorite team come together and leave their mark on the game we all love.
No matter what else happens this season, the 2014-2015 Houston Rockets have carved out their own page in the franchise history books.