On May 4, the well-rested Houston Rockets lost Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals to a tired, Chris Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers squad that was coming off a grueling seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs that came down to literally the final second.
Actually, scratch that. The Clippers didn’t just win Game 1. They ran the Rockets out of the gym, in Houston, 117-101.
“That was very disappointing,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It was something we rallied around later. Just how unprepared our guys came out, I can’t explain it. Sometimes you have up-and-down performances. It was very disappointing to have it in the playoffs. But I think it was a way the coaches could rally the guys and say, ‘Let’s not let that happen again.’”
The Rockets won Game 2 but lost Games 3 and 4 by a combined 58 points to fall behind 3-1 in the series.
What happened after that? Did Kevin McHale call a meeting with the players?
“Kevin’s not a big call-a-meeting guy,” Morey said. “He’s big on, ‘If you’re going to win this thing, you got to be a professional.’ He said, ‘Look, this is your team, this is your legacy. Teams have come back from 3-1.’ McHale has come back from 3-1. He talked about how he had done it – and our guys rallied around it.”
The Rockets won Games 5 through 7, the most surprising win coming in Game 6, when they rallied from 19 points down in the third quarter and 12 down in the fourth to stun the Clippers on the road.
“I would not have expected that,” Morey said, “but I’ve been up 17 with six minutes to go in Chicago in a key game and lost, so it goes the other ways too sometimes. Our guys got in a rhythm. They fought all year. This series here coming up, no one gives us a shot. Everyone’s picking Golden State in three games. So I think once again, our guys are rallying around (this). They like the pressure. They like being backed into a corner a little bit.”
Wait, people are picking the Warriors in three games? Really?
“That was an attempt at humor, Doug,” Morey said. “Sarcasm. My humor is very British.”
Whatever it is, the Rockets are back in the conference finals for the first time since 1997, which prompted a (sort of) congratulatory tweet from Mark Cuban.
“Once you’re in that final four group, it’s just like the NCAA: You got a shot,” Morey said. “The true title contenders are really the final four that are standing in the middle of May. That’s where we’re at. Mark and I are friends. He and I have to fight over free agents and sometimes we get in a back-and-forth. But other than that, he does a great job.”
Unfortunately for the Rockets, they’ll be without Patrick Beverley (wrist) for at least the conference finals, if not the rest of the playoffs.
“Yeah, I don’t know if hope is the right word, but we did not think he was going to play the whole payoffs from the get go,” Morey said. “That’s what the doctors told us. He’s such a warrior. He was trying, but it’s not going to work. He does call himself Wolverine, so he may have healing powers I don’t know about. Unfortunately, we’re not planning on him being back.”
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals is Tuesday. The Warriors are double-digit favorites – a spread that Doug Gottlieb referred to as “Rodney Dangerfield.”
“No respect,” Morey joked, playing along. “No respect.”