How the Los Angeles Clippers Went From a 97.41% Win Probability to Losing Game 6

The Clippers just suffered one of the worst collapses in NBA playoff history. Let's break it down.

The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of their Western Conference Semi-Final series by a score of 119-107 on Thursday night, forcing a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Sunday. Just saying "they lost" doesn't really do it justice, though -- they flat out choked in what will likely be remembered as one of the most embarrassing collapses in NBA playoff history.

The events that took place in the final 14:30 of the game -- after NBA Twitter had already begun writing Houston's obituary -- were simply shocking.

With 2:27 to go in the third quarter, the Clippers held an 89-70 lead, and our algorithms had their win probability at that point at a decisive 97.41%. After that? Cue the sad trombone.

The Clippers' likelihood of winning Game 6 sat up in a high range from the beginning of the contest and stayed there for most of the game. They won Games 3 and 4 handily by a combined 58 points, and their Game 5 loss in Houston seemed like a simple misstep (perhaps a result of fatigue), so we had them at almost 80% to win last night's contest at home before the ball was even tossed up for the opening tip. After that, they never even dropped below 60% once until the Rockets tied the game up at 102-102 with 4:21 remaining in the fourth.

That transition from a Clippers win being a nearly foregone conclusion to an embarrassing Clippers loss makes for a pretty devastating win probability graph (sorry Clips fans):

Back in the first round, we looked at how the Golden State Warriors rallied back from being down 20 to take Game 3 versus the New Orleans Pelicans. At the time, it seemed like it would be the craziest comeback/meltdown we'd see this year. But combine the fact that this happened to the Los Angeles Clippers (a franchise that has never been to a Conference Finals), who are led by Chris Paul (a player whose legacy is plagued by the fact that he himself has never been past the second round), at home in their second straight elimination game, in which they were one quarter away from reaching those elusive Western Conference Finals?

This one was much, much, much worse.

And there's plenty of salt to rub in that wound as well. You see, it wasn't James Harden -- he who just came second in this year's MVP voting -- who rallied the Rockets back. It wasn't even Dwight Howard, who tallied an impressive 20-point, 21-rebound performance, but wasn't much of a factor in the comeback.

No, it was Corey Brewer (acquired in a three-team trade of roster flotsam in December) and Josh Smith (waived by the 32-50 Detroit Pistons this year and picked up by the Rockets in a heavily-criticized move) who led the charge.

In fact, during the Rockets' insane 49-18 run over the game's final 14:30, the Bearded One stayed pretty much glued to the bench, as coach Kevin McHale opted to stick with the guys that sparked the comeback instead. Harden didn't even play a single fourth-quarter minute.

Of course, the Rockets got help from the fact that the Clippers went ice cold at the end of the game as well. Their fourth quarter shot chart was...something:

The Clippers shot 4-for-22 during the fourth quarter and 5-for-27 during that fatal final 14:30. They missed 15 of their final 16 shots, and that one shot they did make (Chris Paul's meaningless three-pointer with two seconds remaining) was LA's only made field goal in the last 6:46 of the game. The Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the final frame (the Brewer/Smith combo alone beat them 29-15), completing one of the most unlikely comebacks you're ever likely to see.

Now, the Clippers head into Houston where our algorithms favor the Rockets to win Game 7 at 51.39%. That's a far cry from the 91.53% that we attached to the Clippers to close things out back when they had a 3-1 series lead after their Game 4 win. At the time, they were even our new title favorites at 31.54%, compared to their current 12.51% (fourth of the seven remaining teams).

That is oh so very Clippers.

Now, if Los Angeles wants to gut out their second consecutive Game 7 victory (and this time on the road), Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the rest of their team will have to dig down deep and find whatever it was that helped them win two straight to close out the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round. If not, prepare for yet another year of sad Ballmer faces, jokes at the Clippers' expense, and questions regarding Chris Paul's legacy and playoff shortcomings.