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NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets vs. L.A. Clippers – Can Rockets Force Game 7?

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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NBA Playoffs: Houston Rockets vs. L.A. Clippers

Game Six

Thursday May 14th, 10:30 PM EST – ESPN, C+D

Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA

Latest Results:

[table id=133 /]

Next: What's the Story?

Mar 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (22) and Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) jostle under the basket for rebounding position during the third quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Story Lines:

Can Rockets Repeat Game 5 Excellence?

It only took 5 games for Houston to get back on track and produce their first complete game of the series. Their offense was flowing as they repeatedly worked the ball inside out and both James Harden and Dwight Howard were effective. Additionally, the Rockets were able to produce a defensive effort that put the Clippers on their heels holding L.A. to

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Which Bench Will Be the X-Factor?

Through the first 4 games of the series it was the Clippers bench and others who made the difference. Until game 5 when coach Kevin McHale inserted Josh Smith into the starting line-up to increase ball movement. This one move seemingly allowed the Rockets to get their offensive flow back on track.  Corey Brewer  also got going and Pablo Prigioni stopped trying to shoot the lights out instead choosing to focus on ball movement. Youngster Clint Capella provided a few minutes to allow Howard rest, but his time on the court was productive including a thunderous dunk.

The Clippers others had the upper hand and were unquestionably the reason they had dominated especially in L.A. But, Tuesday the Rockets were able to defend Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford as well as starters Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick. The Rockets tightened defense resulted in limiting these four players to 21.9% and just 9 of  41 from the field.

Heading into Thursday’s Game 6, while the emphasis may be on the stars the reality is whichever teams’ others and reserves contribute the most will be the deciding factor in who takes the victory.

Will Fatigue Catch Up to Clippers:

The Clippers haven’t had 2 days off in a row since April 22nd. Given this team is primarily a veteran based team we might start seeing it take a toll. For the Rockets they should hope that occurs tonight since Game 7 won’t happen until Sunday giving LAC their first two days rest in 23 days.

Will Injuries Be a Factor?

While Chris Paul’s hamstring has been the prevailing story line, he appears to be moving well on the court. Perhaps the more pressing concern for the Clippers will be Matt Barnes who has both a shoulder and ankle issue and Austin Rivers who suffered a hip pointer following a very hard fall in Game 5.  Jamal Crawford while still productive hasn’t had a break out game which leads me to wonder if his calf injury is fully healed. And, while CP3 seems to have recovered from the strained hammy he tweaked his ankle in a fall Tuesday. Will these injuries effect the overall Clippers game tonight or can they soldier through them?

On the Rockets side playing without Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley has definitely played a factor in Houston’s depth and most notably their defense has suffered. They appeared to right the ship in Game 5, and news Harden was playing ill was surprising given his first Playoff triple-double performance. Hopefully he’s quelled the bug for Thursday’s game as it would nice to see him finally have a signature dominating performance.

Next: The Numbers Don't Lie

May 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) is defended by Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. The Clippers defeated the Rockets 128-95 to take a 3-1 lead. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

 Season Stats:

[table id=112 /]

Playoff Stats:

[table id=134 /]

Next: Limping Forward?

May 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) controls the ball against the Houston Rockets during the second half in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Walking Wounded:

While the teams enter tonight with the same players on the disabled list it is the players who’ll lace them up that we will have our eyes on. Matt Barnes, Austin Rivers and Chris Paul are all nursing injuries and James Harden is still suffering from flu-like symptons

Los Angeles:

Jordan Hamilton: Hasn’t played in the post season after suffering a concussion

James Harden Is Still Suffering From Flu-Like Symptoms As Game 6 Approaches http://t.co/UHtR4lxGsw pic.twitter.com/Hw7b33GsQp

— Dime Magazine (@DimeMag) May 14, 2015

Houston:

  • K.J. McDaniels injured his wrist in what was reported as a likely fracture in the final game of the season
  • Donatas Motiejunas Out for season (back).
  • Patrick Beverley  Out for season following surgery to repair torn ligaments in his wrist. Beverley has said he’ll be back, but wanting something to be true and forcing it to be true are two different things.

Next: What do you have in reserve?

May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) drives to the basket during the fourth quarter as Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry (31) defends in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 115-109 to tie the series at 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Bench Mob:

[table id=135 /]

Full bench stats at hoopsstats.com

Of note: as per Inside the NBA: the Clippers’ bench has seen a resurgence vs Houston they were missing in the first round against San Antonio. Versus the Spurs the LAC bench was -143, they shot 22.3 points per game and shot 40% from the field. Through 4 games against Houston the point differential is +45, points are 36.3 per game and they’re shooting 45%

Key Match-up:

In a must win game no doubt the stars will be the primary focus, however I feel whichever teams’ “others” and reserves show up will be the winning factor

Next: Difference Makers

Jan 19, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) talks with center Dwight Howard (12) during a Indiana Pacers timeout in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 110 to 98. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Season Leaders:

Clippers:

Rockets:

Individual Playoff Stat Leaders:

Points: James Harden – 26.6 points per game, fourth overall, second of remaining players in post season

Rebounds:– DeAndre Jordan jumped to first following Game 4 with 13.4 rebounds per game Blake Griffin is second with 13.3 and   Dwight Howard  is third with 13.0

Assists:   Shooting guard  James Harden ranks second in playoff assists with 8.5 assists per game (with John Wall not active Harden is the top assist getter) and Chris Paul is third with 8.4 assists per game.

Field Goal Percent:  DeAndre Jordan – remains first with a gawdy 74.2%,  Dwight Howard fell to 8th with a 58.7% field goal percent.

Blocks: Dwight Howard –  second with 2.8  blocks per game

Next: What's the Key?

May 6, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after a play during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Keys To Winning:

  • Get Off To a Good Start: Perhaps the most important factor will be for the Rockets to get out of the gate well. Take the Staples Center crowd out of the mix and attack the Clippers paint with the goal of getting their bigs in foul trouble.
  • Pace:  When the Rockets push the ball in transition and play with pace they are a much more formidable squad as Game 5 highlighted. While the Clippers have actually been the team with the overall higher pace in the series much of that can be attributed to the blow-out wins they posted in Games 3 and 4.   While L.A. had a faster overall pace in Game 5 getting off 91 shots to the Rockets 85 the timing of those shots made the difference. And the speed of the game definitely played to the Rockets favor as they posted 17 fast break points to the Clippers 3.
  • Be Aggressive: What seemed to be missing in the first 4 games aside from a quarter here and there was aggressive play from the Rockets. Too often they seemed disinterested or unfocused and would settle for iso-play or outside shots. For the Rockets to be successful they need to bring a steady diet of aggressive play.
  • Get DeAndre Jordan in early foul trouble: As we’ve witnessed in Games 2 and 5 when the Rockets go at Jordan early and subsequently get him in early foul trouble the Clippers are a different team, especially in the paint. Game 5 the Rockets outscored the Clippers 64-46 in the paint.
  • Rockets defense re-appeared in Game 5 and suddenly Houston looked like the squad we expected to bring it in this series.  Now the concern is making sure to continue that effort as they return to Staples Center where they lost the last two games by 25 and 33 points.
  • James Harden wanted to be “the guy” and run his own team and tonight will be a test for him to prove why that was inevitable.  Entering tonight’s game Harden is still suffering from flu-like symptoms, yet he posted his first career playoff triple-double last time out ailing. The difference in Game 5 was the timing of when Harden shot and took over, in the previous games he played the role of facilitator to perfection, but his scoring came during times in the game where it wasn’t a factor. Conversely in Game 5 he scored at pivotal moments. Also in Game 5 he worked with Howard to perfection and the insertion of Josh Smith seemed to provide an additional passer which not only helped Harden distribute the ball, but allowed him to get open for shots.
  • Bring the Complete Game Effort: The only game of the series the Rockets played desperate and brought their complete game for 48 minutes was Game 5. If they want to win this series they’ll need to win tonight and hope the fans at the Toyota Center can  lift them to a Western Conference Finals appearance.
  • Others and Reserves: With two key bench players now inserted in the Rockets starting line-up (Josh Smith/Jason Terry) it’s decimated the Rockets’ bench.  If we assume each of the teams stars will bring their A games, then the deciding factor will come down to the others and reserves. Will Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry be the difference? Or will J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers be the deciding factor?

Next: And the magic eight ball predicts...

May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) dribbles the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Los Angeles Clippers won 117 to 101. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Picks:

Game Five

Finally the Rockets played like we expected to force a Game 6 and soundly beat the Clippers on both ends of the court.  The odds makers aren’t buying what Houston delivered though as Los Angeles is favored by 8.5 points.

The Editors Pick

It comes down to whether the Rockets can bring the same effort and aggression they did Tuesday. We assume they’ll be playing desperate and they’ll be locked in defensively, but then we look at the last two results on the Clippers court and can’t say it’s a given. Let’s be honest if the Rockets win they have to be considered the favorites to take Game 7 at home, but they’ve got to win tonight to get there.

As I’m writing this I’m watching the Bulls vs. Cavaliers game and note how the Cav’s were basically gifted two games via bad whistles: Game 4 the refs didn’t punish Cav’s coach Blatt for walking onto the court calling a time-out they didn’t have and Game 5 they ejected Taj Gibson on a play that should’ve just been a technical foul. This was crucial as big man Pau Gasol was already sidelined with an injury. The start of Game 6 in Chicago also saw the Cav’s getting the favorable whistle over Chicago, before the Bulls seemed to come apart at the seams allowing Cleveland to pull away. Perhaps the Bulls will come back but at this point James’ Cavaliers look poised to move onto the Eastern Conference Finals.

Let’s hope the zebra’s aren’t a factor in tonight’s game as every team should be afforded the right to compete after they’ve worked all season for that opportunity.

Having said that I can’t lie, I expect a solid, strong showing from the Clippers with Chris Paul dialed in to push his team ahead. I’m not going to make a prediction because I’m a little superstitious and feel I could jinx the Rockets by doing so. Suffice to say if James Harden shows up to bring a patented Beard MVB performance and his team mates follow his lead it will be all smiles in Clutch City.

Check back with us post game for the player grades and tomorrow morning for what will either be a post game analysis or the start of the inevitable obituary on a positive season that fell just short of jubilation.

Next: Dissecting the Dichotomy of MVP

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