Houston Rockets Recap:
James Harden: 34 Pts (17-18 FTs), 7 Ast, 7 Reb
Blake Griffin: 11 Pts, 11 Reb, 8 Ast, 2 Stls, 1 Blk
If today’s game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers even remotely symbolizes the potential seven-game series they’d have, then sign me up! If there wasn’t any animosity within those teams, there definitely is now.
The Rockets came into this game with the fourth seed and the Clippers right under them with the fifth. In their first three meetings this year, the Rockets only registered one win heavily because James Harden only tallied an average of 15 points in those contests (lowest vs any team this year).
The Clippers walked into the Staples Center with all types of motivation. Blake Griffin was set to return, they were hungry for redemption after a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday and they could inch closer to home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite those pumps of fuel, they still could not spark enough offense to get the job done.
Team leader Chris Paul surprisingly struggled with his jumper (7-21 FGs). Defenders actually went under screens and forced him to make shots almost as much as they forced DeAndre Jordan to make free throws.
Jordan missed his first seven free throws before converting (1-8 FTs). Blake Griffin made his presence coming back after having a staph infection removed from his right elbow. Throughout the game, he used his versatility. His ability to rebound and push the fast break can pose match up problems, but his late game efforts in doing so caused the Clippers an untimely turnover.
The Grudge Match
At the jump, the Clippers did exactly what was expected of them. They called J.J. Redick‘s number early and ran plays for him to heat up quickly. Blake Griffin also played nucleus to the offense assumingly to gain a rhythm from his 15-game absence. What was not expected was Matt Barnes lighting the Rockets up by going 5-5 from the field (4-4 from three-point land).
Following a two-day rest period, Houston shot the ball horrendously in the opening quarter. They only converted on 35 percent of their shots and missed on all nine attempts from beyond the arc. The Clippers took an eight point lead heading to the second.
Midway through the second period, Matt Barnes committed a Matt Barnes-like foul on James Harden.
Not only did that foul reward Harden with two free throws but also motivation. Harden went on to capture 15 points to close the last six minutes of the second.
The Rockets outscored the Clippers 36-20 that quarter. Essentially, the Clippers began the game living by their jumpers but in the second (which bled into the third), we witnessed how quickly they died from it.
The second half was more of the same with the Rockets attacking the rim and the Clippers settling for jumpers. It appeared that Los Angeles came out of the locker room flat and with no energy. Proceeding a string of Houston turnovers, the Clippers were finally able to cut their 15 point deficit to eight which included a Matt Barnes three that surged a bolt of enthusiasm into the players and fans.
Nate Robinson, Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Austin Rivers carried the third quarter’s momentum into the fourth. A series of energy plays, lay-ups and jumpers cut the lead to three. Terrence Jones was quick to respond with five consecutive points but Corey Brewer had a more emphatic answer to the Clippers’ run…
Blake would get a dunk following the poster dunk on him but did not receive the same “oohs” and “ahhs” as Brewer did.
Harden attempted to season the game with a clutch, and-one layup to push the Rockets at arms length and make the score 96-89 with under five minutes remaining. Then, the dog in Chris Paul woke up. In the next 30 seconds, Paul went on a 7-0 run including hitting his only three pointer of the night to tie the game at 96.
Terrence Jones came back down and answered with a big three of his own to put Houston back up three. On the other end, Barnes bailed out J.J. Redick from a congested lane and put in a lay-up, plus a foul. However, he missed his free throw which would have tied the game with a minute and a half remaining.
The true hero in the final minute of the game was Trevor Ariza. Ariza forced a bad pass that Griffin stole but backpedaled his way to cause an offensive foul with 12 seconds to go. Harden was immediately fouled the next possession but split the pair of free throws which made the score 100-98. Out of the Clippers timeout, Trevor Ariza was isolated on Chris Paul for the final play. Ariza forced Paul into a difficult short jumper that did not even make it to the rim. His defense shielded this win for the Rockets.
What To Take Away
- The Rockets defense looked sharp. They held LAC (second highest scoring team) to 98 points along with 20 turnovers. Paul and Griffin only combined for 33 points on 11-31 shooting and contributed eight of those turnovers.
- Free throw shooting (27th in the league) is one of Houston’s biggest flaws but they shot well from the stripe today (80 percent). Despite only shooting 37 percent from the field and 23 percent from downtown versus the Clippers today, they managed to score 100 points. If they can consistently make teams pay for putting them on the line, they will be extremely dangerous on the offensive end.
- Terrence Jones has been playing a solid fill-in with Dwight Howard off the court. In his last nine games, Jones has been averaging 16.9 ppg and 9.9 rpg. If and when Howard replaces Jones in the starting lineup, Jones will serve to add much needed bench depth for the Rockets.
- This was a critical win for Houston, first and foremost because it keeps the Rockets ahead in the Conference standings while adding some padding. Further, it evens the season series which means neither team has an automatic advantage, therefore other tiebreak rules would apply.
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