Clipper defense, Darren Collison lead L.A. to win over Houston

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For both the Clippers and the Rockets, the conventional wisdom is the same: If they can defend well and consistently in the playoffs they move into contender status.

Wednesday night it was the Clippers that defended when it mattered — the Rockets shot just 33 percent in the fourth quarter.

Combine that with some impressive play from Darren Collison — he had 12 points in the fourth quarter — and you get the Clippers pulling away for a 101-93 victory at home. That makes the Clippers 3-0 against the Rockets this season, but as this was the fifth game at the end of a road trip the Rockets come loaded with excuses for an off outing.

The Rockets legs looked tired late as the Clippers intensified their defense. A couple key Rockets looked flat all night — James Harden shot just 6-of-16 on his way to 18 points plus he had six turnovers; Chandler Parsons shot just 3-of-13. Without those guys the Rockets offense sputtered as they just tried to go inside to Dwight Howard without an outside to balance things.

That was part of the reason this was a lower-scoring game than expected. This game started out as a dream for the Clippers who were allowed to get in transition and raced out to a 17-4 lead. But for the rest of the first half the Rockets ground it down — Patrick Beverly harassed Chris Paul into a slow first half while the Rockets bench outscored the Clippers subs 21-10 in the first 24 minutes. The third quarter was back and fourth, with the Clippers up 74-73 after three.

Then in the fourth the Clippers went on a little run (8-3) early to give them a some cushion, and they wouldn’t give that up the rest of the way.

That’s where Collison came in — he had 7 straight in the fourth quarter (he finished with 19 points) to keep the Clippers ahead. Collison got more run, including time at the two, after Jamal Crawford had to leave the game just before halftime due to a calf injury. There is no word yet on how serious it is.

Glen Davis — you can call him “Big Baby — made this his Clipper debut in the fourth he was solid in the role 2 points (off of free throws), grabbed 2 rebounds, had 2 blocks, and gave up 3 fouls.

Blake Griffin had a huge night, scoring 23 points (on 25 shots, not exactly efficient) and adding 16 rebounds. He showed off his handles all night but Houston did a good job contesting him.

Dwight Howard finished with 23 points (on 12 shots) and 11 rebounds to lead Houston.

You can’t read much into a February game in terms of potential playoff meetings. That said, this helps keep the Clipper in a top four seed (they are currently the four seed, percentage points ahead of the Rockets) and a chance to have home court in the first round. Which is going to matter in the West.

Just not as much as who defends.