The Rockets learned the hard way the Clippers — even without Chris Paul — are not the Dallas Mavericks.
It was announced before the game that Paul — the “point god” and quarterback of the Clippers’ offense — would not play Game 1 due to his strained hamstring. With that news, the Rockets did not respect the Clippers. Houston played like all they had to do is show up and they win.
Blake Griffin had a triple-double — 26 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists — and the Clippers hit 11-of-16 three-pointers in the second half while the Rockets turned the ball over 23 times on the night. The result was a 117-101 Los Angeles win.
The Clippers are up 1-0 with a road win heading into Game 2 Wednesday night — when the Clippers might have the best point guard in the game back in the rotation.
“That first half could have gotten away from us and the fact we kinda were able to keep our composure, turn the ball over and only be down four I think,” Clippers’ Doc Rivers said, correctly. “That was the turning point.”
Austin Rivers got the start at the point for the Clippers but the Rockets showed no respect for his shot — he started slow but finished with 17 points and hit 4-of-6 from three. Then Jordan Crawford came in and was making plays. A little while later, Doc went to Lester Hudson for minutes at the point. That’s not good, but the Clippers hung around. It was ugly early as the Clippers shot just 32 percent in the first quarter and were 1-of-10 from three (Rivers making the lone bucket).
But the Rockets didn’t take advantage. Trevor Ariza started out 4-of-4 and scored 11 of the first 15 Houston points, but nobody else could knock down a shot. It was a six-point Rockets lead after one and as Clippers got into their bench Rockets went on 19-5 run to take a 13-point lead. Meanwhile, the Clippers looked out of sync — Griffin, J.J. Redick, and Matt Barnes are rhythm shooters who missed Paul setting them up.
The turnovers made it an ugly game, and it was 50-46 Rockets at the half. The Rockets had their chance and didn’t take advantage. As the game got tight late the Rockets seemed to panic, going away from their offense and what worked.
In the second half the Clippers went on runs — a 12-0 and a 10-0, both in the fourth quarter — as they started to run the offense through Griffin. The All-Star power forward showed off how far his game has developed from his rookie year when he could just dunk — Griffin is a very good passer, reads the game well, and has great ball handling skills. The Rockets didn’t have an answer.
As the game got tight late the Rockets seemed to panic, going away from their offense and what worked.
“They had more of an edge; we did not play very well,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale understated. “I didn’t believe our effort was, huh, for a second round game trying to hold home court…. they had more energy than we did…
“There are no excuses, they played better than we did.”
The Clippers loaded up on James Harden, and he had 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting — not a horrible night but he has a history of struggling against quality playoff defenses, and that is still a legitimate concern. Dwight Howard had 22 points on 13 shots (and five blocked shots) but had to work for all of it against DeAndre Jordan. Trevor Ariza added 17 points.
With the Clippers loading up on Harden the Rockets needed to knock down their threes or find baseline cutters, but they did not. Houston was an okay 11-of-33 from three, but it wasn’t enough. In addition, some guys just missed looks: Corey Brewer was 0-0f-4 on uncontested looks. Plus they didn’t take advantage of the Clipper turnovers (21 of them): The Clippers had 34 points off turnovers, the Rockets 21.
The Clippers just made plays — and the Houston defense was not good enough. Griffin hit 8-of-14 contested shots while Matt Barnes hit 6-of-8 uncontested looks. Los Angeles had six players in double figures: Griffin with 26, Jamal Crawford with 21, Matt Barnes with 20, J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers with 17, and DeAndre Jordan with 10 points (and 13 rebounds).
“It looked like we were being reactive to what they were doing all night, it didn’t look like we were proactive,” McHale said.
The Clippers are now in control of the series. They could consider resting Chris Paul for Game 2, knowing that even if the series is tied they will be coming back home for two with the chance to own the series.
Houston had a chance in Game 1 to take control of the series, and they didn’t play with the focus needed to take care of business. Their road back in this series is now a long and winding one.