The Los Angeles Clippers are approaching new territory, beating the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series and finding themselves one win away from reaching the Western Conference Finals. L.A. isn’t only close to advancing to the conference finals for the first time, but they are emerging as perhaps the best team in the West.
Just one month ago, the Clippers had 20/1 odds to win the NBA Finals. After taking a 3-1 series lead over Houston, their odds have catapulted to 3/1, and only the Golden State Warriors are given a better chance to win the title. But despite what the odds say, Los Angeles might be in the best position to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2015.
Golden State won 67 games in the regular season, but the No.1 seed in the West trails the Memphis Grizzlies 2-1 in their second-round playoff series. If the Warriors aren’t able to get a Game 4 victory on the road, their postseason run could end earlier than expected.
Facing Memphis in the next round wouldn’t be an easy task for Los Angeles, but it gives the Clippers a much better chance of advancing than taking on Golden State. The Warriors only lost two games at Oracle Arena in the regular season, but L.A would have home-court advantage in a series with the Grizzlies.
Even if the Clippers have to go through the Warriors, Los Angeles is looking more and more like the NBA’s top contender. They took care of the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, and they’ve been dominant against the Rockets. After beating Houston without Chris Paul in Game 1, the Clippers won Game 3 and Game 4 by a total of 58 points.
“I think we can finally see what he (Doc Rivers) was talking about,” Glen Davis said on Sunday night. “Doc has always been preaching about the way we need to play in order to win a championship, and I think we can finally see it. I think beating San Antonio woke us up. I think the Spurs woke up this sense of urgency we’ve always had inside of us, and now it’s paying off against the rest of these teams.”
Paul finished sixth in the league in MVP voting, but he’s been just a small part of the Clippers’ success against the Rockets. Blake Griffin has been the top performer of the postseason, leading L.A with 25.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game against Houston. Austin Rivers, who has been the subject of much criticism, has been one of the Clippers best players, scoring 25 points on 13 shot attempts in Game 3.
L.A. has even thrived at times when Griffin hasn’t been at his best. They pulled away from Houston with a 43-point third quarter in Game 4 in which the power forward didn’t make a field goal and had just one assist.
The Clippers won 56 games in the regular season, but a subpar bench and average defense had many experts predicting them to be bounced in the first round. Through 11 playoff games, Los Angeles has gotten unexpected production from players outside of their starting five, and they’ve been able to contain one of the league’s top scoring teams.
“They’re a really good defensive team, especially when they get set,” James Harden told reporters. “We’ve just got to do a better job of moving the basketball and just being aggressive.”
Houston led the NBA with 11.4 three-pointers per game, and Harden was the league’s No.2 scorer, averaging 27.4 points on 18.1 shots per contest. The Rockets are averaging less than 10 three-pointers against the Clippers, and Harden’s been limited to 22 points per game in Houston’s three losses.
The Rockets still have a chance to win the series, considering two of the final three games will be played in Houston if the series extends beyond Game 5. But the Clippers have a real chance to win their first championship in franchise history.