HOUSTON - The Houston Rockets are heading to the NBA Western Conference finals for the first time in 18 years after overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers.
James Harden scored 31 points, Dwight Howard had 16 points and 15 rebounds and the Rockets never trailed in a 113-100 victory over the Clippers on Sunday, sending them to the conference finals for the first time since 1997, reported ESPN.com.
"It's the ultimate confidence-booster," Harden said of the series comeback. "There are only a handful of teams that have done that. We fought back. We fought three really hard games and came away with it."
The Rockets overcame a 19-point third-quarter deficit in Game Six on Thursday night to stay alive. No such heroics were needed Sunday when they were up by 17 after three and Howard opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play to push it to 88-68.
"When you're down 19 on the road, it's easy to give in and just say, 'Maybe next year,' " Harden said. "But I think the injuries throughout the entire year kind of made us fight through adversity no matter what. We always find a way to fight, and another case was being down 3-1."
Blake Griffin scored five points in a 9-0 run to cut the lead to eight points with less than three minutes remaining. Harden made a pair of free throws after that, but a dunk by DeAndre Jordan got the Clippers within eight again. This time, Trevor Ariza hit a three-pointer from the corner to secure the victory.
Griffin had 27 points and Chris Paul had 26 points and 10 assists, while Ariza finished with 22 points and made six three-pointers.
The Western Conference finals begin on Tuesday night with the Rockets at Oakland facing the Golden State Warriors.