Chris Paul was too much for the Rockets late when it mattered.
WHO: Clippers 95, Rockets 91
WHAT: The short-handed Rockets – playing without Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection), Kevin Martin (strained right shoulder), Chandler Parsons (sick) and new acquisitions Marcus Camby and Derek Fisher – fell to 24-21 overall, still 8th in the Western Conference. Houston fell to 8-15 away from Toyota Center in their first game since the trade deadline. The Rockets simply were no match for Chris Paul, who scored 23 points and had a dominant fourth quarter. Paul scored 10 straight points late to lead his time back from a six-point deficit, and made clutch plays in the final minute that put this one on ice for L.A. The Clippers were also the beneficiary of some eyebrow-raising calls in the game, and while the Rockets fought hard in spite of their roster limitations, Paul and Blake Griffin (18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) proved to be more than enough in spite of a strong Rockets offense (48.6 percent shooting) and a stingy defense (40.7 percent shooting for the Clippers).
WHAT HAPPENED?: The Rockets were surprisingly in this late, but Paul took over. His layup with 24.6 seconds left in the game put the Clippers ahead to stay at 91-89. He then stole the ball from Goran Dragic and passed to Randy Foye for what would be a couple of free throws. He then scored again on two free throws with 3.6 seconds left to make a two-point game a four-pointer. It also didn’t help the Rockets that Luis Scola, who they desperately needed to step up, scored just 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting and even lost a key jump ball late to Paul that earned the Clippers a pivotal possession. Scola, whose game had been revived recently with 17.2 points per outing the last 10 games, did collect 11 rebounds and 4 assists, but on a night when the Rockets were without two of their top scorers, Scola’s offense was desperately needed, and he failed to deliver. Courtney Lee’s efforts (25 points, 9-of-14 shooting, 5 rebounds) were admirable, but fell just short.
INAUSPICIOUS DEBUT: With Lowry out and Derek Fisher likely to be bought out, the Rockets signed point guard Courtney Fortson on Saturday. Fortson, 23, played with the Clippers earlier this season, averaging 4.3 points, two rebounds and 1.3 assists in 11.2 minutes. At 5-foot-11, he does not bring much size. But he did play Saturday, and in his 1 minute, 4 seconds of action, he committed two turnovers and amassed nothing else. It’s only a 10-day contract, and it’s likely the Rockets are hoping other options become available. They had earlier this week placed a call in to veteran Anthony Carter, who was waived by the Toronto Raptors and previously played for coach Kevin McHale in Minnesota.
INSIDE OFFENSE? It’s no secret the Rockets lack scoring punch in the paint, but the last few games, Patrick Patterson has shown great improvement with his post moves, instead of relying strictly on his midrange jumper. Patterson was again crucial for the Rockets Saturday, as they went to him often inside in the second half. He piled up 14 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 30 minutes off the bench. The Rockets are fine defensively in the paint now with Camby on board, but they still lack go-to buckets inside. The midrange shooting preference of Scola and Patterson won’t cut it, so it’s good to see Patterson developing an interior game closer to the rim.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Both Marcus Morris and Greg Smith saw time Saturday. Morris saw a healthy 16 minutes in his first extended time this season. He had 4 points with a rebound and a foul. He missed two of his three shots, both of which were 3s. He knocked down his only two free throw attempts. Smith played 2 minutes, 14 seconds, and missed his only field goal attempt . He also committed a foul. Once Camby gets acclimated, I could see Smith being sent down back to the Valley with the Vipers. Morris, however, may have some chance at some decent time if he can show anything and produce, especially with Martin’s status not certain. His scoring and versatility could be a healthy addition, particularly as someone who can attack the basket and get to the rim or free-throw line.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: It was a heartbreaking win, but not unexpected. The Clippers were just overwhelmingly more talented Saturday, and if moral victories counted for anything, the Rockets could chalk this one up as such. Instead, they have to turn right around and play at Phoenix tonight against a Suns team that is 1 1/2 games back of the Rockets for the 8th playoff spot. They’ve also won 8 of their last 10 games and are coming off a nice win against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Phoenix is a healthy 14-10 at home, and Houston’s road woes have been well documented. It’s a pesky stretch for the Rockets, who then face the Lakers at home Tuesday before traveling to play remodeled Golden State on Thursday.