The Houston Rockets humbled the Los Angeles Clippers 113-100 in game seven of their NBA second round playoff series Sunday to reach their first Western Conference final since 1997.

James Harden tallied 31 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, while Dwight Howard finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who became just the ninth team ever to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games.

“They had stretches where they did some things that got us off our game a little bit, but for the most part we stayed in attack mode,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We just had a lot of guys play well.”

It marked another playoff meltdown for the Clippers, who have never made it to the NBA semi-finals in franchise history and looked to be in command of this series after notching three wins in dominating fashion.

“So close? I don’t even know what that means anymore,” said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who had 26 points and 10 assists.

“Like Ricky Bobby said,” he went on, referencing a Will Ferrell Hollywood movie character, “if you’re not first, you’re last. Close isn’t good enough.”

The Rockets move on to face the top-seeded Golden State Warriors starting on Tuesday in Oakland.

They closed out the series three days after stealing game six in Los Angeles, where they rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit for a 119-107 victory.

This is the Clippers’ first season under new ownership, but it has ended in familiar style. It’s the third time in four years the Clippers have failed to get past the second round.

Trevor Ariza hit a three-pointer with 55 seconds left in the fourth that pushed the Rockets’ lead to 11 and all but clinched the series victory.

“It’s a long summer,” said a disappointed Paul. “It’s getting old, to tell you the truth. I have to get better. It starts with me.”

The Rockets, after back-to-back first-round exits, finally made the NBA final-four again for the first time since ’97 — two years after the Hakeem Olajuwon-led teams won back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.

They will face a Golden State team who won all four meetings between the two during the regular season.

“This was a great test for us,” said Howard. “I think we passed it, so it’s time for the next one.”

Blake Griffin had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles and DeAndre Jordan added 16 points and 17 rebounds. – Agence France-Presse

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