Austin Rivers made a bold claim that the Houston Rockets match up with the LA Clippers better than any other team in the league. Does he have a point?
Both the LA Clippers and Houston Rockets made huge offseason moves after last season, with the Rockets trading for Russell Westbrook while the Clippers signed the reigning NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. While many consider the Clippers to be one of the favorites to win the title, Austin Rivers thinks they would run into trouble if they had to face Houston in the playoffs.
In an episode of his podcast Go Off, Rivers welcomed his father Doc Rivers to the show recently. Naturally, it wasn’t long before the topic of how a series between the Rockets and Clippers would turn out.
“Y’all are not beating us,” remarked Austin to his dad. “We match up perfectly with y’all. I think we match up with you guys better than anybody in the NBA. That’s just how I feel.”
Doc Rivers, currently in his seventh season coaching the Clippers, simply listened and chuckled as Austin continued: “Although last time we played you, it didn’t go too well for us, but still.”
Austin was referring to the March 5th game in Houston in which Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points to lead the Clippers past the Rockets 120-105. In that game, James Harden was held to just 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting and 0-of-8 from downtown.
It’s clear from his opinions that Austin truly believes the Rockets match up with Doc’s Clippers better than any other team in the league — but do they really?
Next: The Season Series
In their first showdown this season, the Clippers simply had no answer for James Harden. Shooting 12-of-26, Harden poured in 47 points, dished out seven dimes and came down with six boards. He also converted on 16 of 17 free throws in one of his most aggressive games to date. As a team, Houston held LA to just 14 free throw attempts, and they only made half of those in the loss.
In a November rematch, Houston shot a very respectable 46.4 percent. The problem? They allowed the Clippers to shoot 51.7 percent. Harden had a monster game once again, scoring 37 on 5-for-11 from the outside. Lou Williams, however, was the difference for the Clippers, scoring 26 off the bench in a narrow 122-119 Clippers victory.
It was the superstar duo of Russell Westbrook and James Harden that carried them to a second win over the Clippers last December, as they combined for 68 points and 15 assists in a 122-117 victory.
The fourth matchup between the two teams is the only one that came after the deal that sent Clint Capela away for Robert Covington. Unfortunately, it was also the most lopsided game in the series, in favor of Los Angeles.
The Clippers had a 46.4 to 36.1 percent shooting advantage and held Covington to just three points in a 120-105 victory led by 25 points from Leonard. After scoring in single digits in the first three head-to-heads, Ivica Zubac scored 17 to go with 12 rebounds in the final game.
That might not seem like a big deal, but it hints to a bigger strategic concern the Rockets may need to address in future games against the Clippers.
Next: Is Austin Right?
A New Look
Most people believe the Rockets improved their chances when they traded away Capela to go full micro ball. I tend to agree, as the roster now completely falls in line with Mike D’Antoni’s coaching style.
We all got an immediate taste of what the new-look Rockets are capable of against the best teams in the league when they knocked off the Lakers in Covington’s reunion debut. Their small-ball attack was extremely effective and led to improved confidence on the defensive end as well.
This didn’t exactly translate to the March game against the Clippers, but that’s obviously a small sample size. Houston improved their overall chances with the additions of Covington and Jeff Green not only because their system was built for it, but because most other teams don’t have the versatility to keep up with them. The problem here is the Clippers do.
The Clippers’ Defensive Versatility
Los Angeles has a three-headed snake when it comes to versatile defenders. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard leads the pack and is one of the most dominant two-way players in the league.
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Paul George and Patrick Beverley are also capable of elite defending across all smaller positions, as they demonstrated when they held Houston to 7-of-42 from 3-point range in their last meeting.
Houston’s main weapon is the outside shot. If they’re hitting those in a game, they will most likely win.
There’s a reason that their 3-point shooting has generally been lower than normal against the Clippers, though.
Under Doc Rivers, the Clippers have exceptional discipline at the 3-point line, which has led to them allowing just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, which is second in the league.
Part of their strategy is giving up the one-on-one longball, which Harden is particularly fond of.
That paid off in their last meeting when Harden did almost this exact thing eight times:https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2020/03/05/0021900927/9/4e2516ec-3876-72ca-f5db-3c48cdf58abd_1280x720.mp4
Houston absolutely must move the ball and find open threes against the Clippers instead of forcing them in the future, because the latter aren’t the types of shots that fall for an entire series in the playoffs.
Seeing that their quickness and offensive firepower gives them an edge over most teams, Houston’s new look improved their chances against almost all of them. The Clippers just aren’t one of those teams.
I can see why Austin would feel confident against his father’s team, but realistically, the Clippers probably have more matchup problems with the Milwaukee Bucks or Los Angeles Lakers.