Feb 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Corey Brewer (33) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 110-105. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Rockets Game Summary: James Harden Finally Tops His Nemesis:
Since James Harden came to Houston there has been no tougher personal competition for him than the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s not as if J.J. Redick is considered a lock down defender, but he always seems to get the upper hand on Harden. Even when they switch and put Chris Paul (who gives up several inches in height to Harden) or Doc’s son Austin Rivers on him the logical person would assume the leading MVP candidate would find a way to power through.
Prior to the game Wednesday Harden had scored 16 and 9 points facing the Clippers for a total of 25 points. Given his league leading scoring average is 27 points plus per game it really does make you wonder what exactly the Clippers are doing to him.
Yet, this problem isn’t isolated to just this year without Dwight Howard in the line-up it extends back to when Harden became a Rocket. My thinking is it must be Doc’s game plan that holds Harden in check. Watching the game though I think the Clippers must’ve got into Harden’s head. At least this time it appeared Harden arrived with his own game plan. He elected to try and involve everyone else on the floor and be more aggressive in his drives. Ultimately Harden won the strategy battle over Doc with the Rockets finally notching a win over the Clippers.
At the end of the night Harden had registered a double-double of 21 points and 10 assists, but still shot the ball horribly (4-13). What he did do though was get to the line where he went 10 of 12 to pick up close to half of his points. The others came courtesy of three 3-balls and a single 2-point field goal.
Suffice to say whatever strategy Doc Rivers has employed his squad to implement on the bearded one has got into James head. With one more game remaining this season I actually think this performance tonight may have pushed Harden in the right direction in terms of figuring out Doc’s Clippers. We’ll see how he plays in that last meeting March 15th at the Staples Center. If I was a betting person I’d be all over the action that Harden will go off against L.A. in that meeting.
In terms of the win tonight, as I outlined in my pregame analysis the Rockets bench would likely figure into the mix and they proved me right. At the end of the night it was the Clippers who took the bench scoring by one point, but ultimately it was one man from their side who did all the damage with Jamal Crawford scoring 24 of their 33 points. In response Corey Brewer and Josh Smith brought their A games: Brewer posted 20 points and 6 rebounds and Smith was just one rebound and one point shy of grabbing his own double-double. Moreover it was their energy that seemed to keep the Rockets in the game especially early.
“Our starters didn’t have a really good game up until the fourth quarter, but our bench gave us life, Our bench just took over, and that was the key to the game right there.” -Harden
The main factor on the night was the three ball which Houston had falling in bunches. By night’s end they equaled their season’s best output of 17 made threes, however it took 44 attempts to get there. Trevor Ariza was particularly stealth hitting on 5 of his 9 attempts.
While the Clippers were focused on shutting down Harden as their main focus the Rockets took advantage of some key intangible categories:
1) Rockets grabbed 7 steals to just 1 for LA (which was collected by unlikely candidate Spencer Hawes)
2) Though you would expect Jordan and company to be the clear winners in the block category it was the Rockets who had 9 to LAC’s 4. Harden led the way for Houston with 3
3) Perhaps the most important intangible was the turnover category where the Rockets kept their turnovers under double digits (9), but forced 15
- Harden had more than a few dust-ups in this contest with the aggressive defense of the Clippers. In one such run-in near the end of the game he took exception to Chris Paul when he continued through with his hand after the whistle had already been blown and hit James in the face. The teams huddled around the pair like they were about to get into a melee, but all was settled down.
- To that end, I won’t be surprised if next time out perhaps coach Kevin McHale sends his brigade to be more aggressive in their dealing with CP3
- DeAndre Jordan continues to reap the benefits of no Blake Griffin in the line-up scoring 22 points and grabbing 19 boards and in a rarity he hit 50% of his free throws.
- Chris Paul continues to be arguably the best assist man in the business connecting on 14 which speaks to his value for the Clippers who totaled 18 on the night
- On the opposite side, the Rockets posted 27 assists
- Houston won 3 of the 4 quarters (losing only the 3rd quarter)
- Houston went on a 15-1 run to start the fourth quarter which the Clippers never recovered from
Moving forward: Harden was seen visibly limping following the game which was a direct result of an ankle twist that occurred in the paint on an overly aggressive defensive stand by Chris Paul on him. He told the media he hoped to ice the ankle and have therapy to be ready for Brooklyn Friday night.
Houston improved to 39-18 maintaining their third seed in the West which is the most important accomplishment of the night. Still, it feels like potentially a more important mental hurdle may have been achieved by the Rockets finally beating their nemesis and Harden coming close to solving Doc’s defensive strategy against him.
Next up: Houston play Brooklyn at home Friday night – we’ll need to wait until game time to know whether Harden’s ankle will allow his inclusion, but with Howard out there is so much pressure on him to not miss games. Beverley should return for this one and I guess if there’s a game James could miss out of the ones on tap this would be it since the next 3 following Friday are: Cavaliers, Hawks and Grizzlies.
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