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NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets Stave Off Elimination With Stars Leading Way

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Fans cheer as the Houston Rockets play the Los Angeles Clippers in the second half in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Rockets won 124 to 103. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets Force Game 6 in L.A.

Facing elimination the Houston Rockets took to the court Tuesday night having played some of their worst ball of the season in their second round series versus the Clippers. Heading into Game 5 at the Toyota Center the Rockets had lost their last 2 games by 25 and 33 points. In the Rockets 3 losses they had won just 3 of 12 quarters and in their two wins they’ve won 6 of 8 quarters (Tuesday the lost just one quarter by a single point).

The win provided lots to build on moving forward as the team returns to Los Angeles for another elimination game on Thursday night where they’ll endeavor to win again to return home for game 7, Sunday.

124. 169. . 103. 77

Top Performers:

James Harden26 Points,  10 Assists, 11 Rebounds (his first career triple-double)

Blake Griffin:  30 Points, 2 Asts, 16 Rebs

The X-Factor:

Trevor Ariza was huge for the Rockets on both ends of the court. Offensively he scored 22 points (hit 4 of 6 three pointers), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and had 3 steals. On the defensive side of the court he was extremely active stopping Redick, Paul, Barnes, Rivers and even Griffin at times. He was the best perimeter defender and continues to be the best overall defender registering a team high of plus +23 (tied with Harden).

I often cite Ariza as the best off season pick-up given his durability, low salary and ability to play well on both ends of the court. When hall of fame NBA Player turned announcer Reggie Miller said it was great to see Ariza stepping up I tweeted him, the reason he was more successful offensively (in my opinion) is Harden and Howard were more successful.

The Stats:

The Rockets took most of the statistical categories in this their best game of the series:

  • Rebounding: Rockets had 59 rebounds to the Clippers 39
  • Points in the Paint battle was also won by Houston:  64-46
  • Houston won the Fast Break Points category: 17-3
  • Rockets had 29 Assists to Clippers 22
  • The improved offensive floor was witnessed via their ball movement and increased speed resulting in a 54.1% field goal percent while they held L.A. to 41.8%

The Good:

  • This was the first time in the series despite a win in game 2 that the Rockets actually resembled the team we’ve seen all season. Part of this may be due the Clippers lacking a sense of urgency, however the squad simply looked more aggressive, played with more desperation, found their fluidity on offense and played with a sense of urgency on defense.
  • Conversely the Clippers who’ve dominated the series may have missed an opportunity by letting the Rockets back in the series. They didn’t respond to the Rockets “A” game and now will need to hope the Rockets don’t keep the momentum as a loss Thursday will send them back to Houston for a game 7.
  • Finally the Rockets “others” provided the intangibles expected prior to the series start. Kevin McHale inserted Josh Smith into the starting line-up in place of Terrence Jones and it paid immediate dividends especially in terms of ball movement (perhaps playing alongside headband brother Jason Terry allowed for that fluidity). Likewise Corey Brewer brought more energy and delivered key buckets from 3 and in the paint at critical moments in the game.
  • I’ve been preaching the need for the Rockets to push the pace which they did, but it was the Clippers who got 6 additional shots.
  • McHale utilized the Hack-A-Jordan Strategy however tonight he chose to utilized it correctly to stop Clipper momentum shifts.

The Bad:

  • The two games Houston has won have seemingly been tied to the absence of DeAndre Jordan on the court. When he gets in early foul trouble the Rockets are able to take advantage of the Clippers defensively.
  • Three point shooting and perimeter defense have been cornerstones of the Rockets identity all season however they’ve yet to have a typical night behind the arc in the series. Tonight they were closer to their season attempt average but shot only 31%. They were successful at bringing their league best perimeter defense back to life though, holding the Clippers to 25.7%.
  • Post game the Clippers answered questions as if the reason they lost was all due to them taking their foot off the pedal. A surly Jordan basically implied it was just effort based.  A few Rockets might beg to differ as it really did feel more like the Rockets found their offensive flow and more importantly their defense. While it may be true the Clippers are that much better, I’ll maintain allowing an offensive juggernaut like the Rockets to get rolling may have been the biggest mistake they made this season.
  • Though James Harden posted his first post season triple-double he did it while ailing. Let’s hope the cold runs it’s course by Thursday

Moving Forward:

  • I hate to harp on a obvious fact, but the Rockets found the flow they had entering the post season and achieved versus Dallas. They got hit hard and perhaps unprepared for the Clippers but now they have the game plan and belief they can win. They toiled diligently all season to earn home court, so if they can win in Los Angeles they can bring the final deciding game back home where there is a rich history of success.
  • Of note: The Clippers have played every other day since April 22nd and will do so again Thursday. With so many Clippers nursing injuries the toil of that work load may actually benefit Houston if they keep pushing the pace offensively and remain focused defensively.
  • As per above several Clippers have injuries that won’t keep them off the court, but could affect their overall performance. The most notable is obviously Chris Paul who seemed to suffer a minor ankle tweak tonight.  Matt Barnes has been dealing with a shoulder issue and tonight also tweaked his ankle. Adding to the list was Austin Rivers who took a hard fall to the court, resulting in a hip pointer which didn’t keep him off the court, but will likely be sorer Wednesday. Ea..ch of these players has played a significant role for L.A so it will be interesting if they affect the outcome in game 6.
  • If I’m Doc Rivers I have to be a little worried the Rockets rediscovered both their offensive flow and their defensive game. Moreover, as much as James Harden has posted decent stats he’s yet to have a typical James Harden game, might Thursday night be when he does?
  • Game 6 to me will decide the winner. If the Clippers are going to win the series it will happen in L.A., but if Houston can manage to carry this effort forward and bring the series back to Houston it will result in the Rockets taking the pivotal victory to reach the Western Conference Finals.

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