Not for the first time this season or even this week, Corey Brewer comes to the rescue of an exhausted James Harden in the fourth quarter, delivering the Houston Rockets to victory in impressive fashion, this time 110-105 over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Brewer finished with 20 points, 13 of them coming in the fourth quarter as the Rockets came back from behind to upend the Clippers who seem to be realizing that their initial good fortunes without Blake Griffin are running out. Chris Paul was great (22 points, 14 assists) and DeAndre Jordan was useful offensively this time, scoring 22 points. Jamal Crawford led the team with 24 off the bench, but the offense was again went cold in the fourth quarter, while Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes stunk up the place (3-of-19 from the field combined), and there’s the weird case of Doc Rivers giving his son a job he doesn’t deserve.
As for Harden? He started terribly with just one point in the fourth quarter and entered the fourth with six minutes to go. He looked a lot better in the late stages of the game, but the absence of Dwight Howard and the overall reliance on him is taking its toll. He was only 4-of-13 from the field but made up for some of his misses with his usual free throw absorbing ways and 10 assists, which helped make Brewer, Trevor Ariza (17 points), Donatas Motiejunas (18 points) and Terrence Jones (14 points) a lot more useful.
The difference more often than not was the Rockets’ bench. Not just the points Brewer scored, but also the defense from Josh Smith and the things box scores don’t show that Pablo Prigioni does. The Clippers struggled each time Chris Paul went to the bench, shooting 30% when he was sitting on the bench and worse, not managing to generate a single assist in the nine minutes of rest that he did get to enjoy, or shall we say suffer through.
The Clippers’ worst crime was their defense. The Rockets scored 38 points on uncontested jump shots, 36 of them coming on wide open 3-pointers. If it wasn’t for Chris Paul playing tremendous basketball and Jamal Crawford having a good, wild day of shooting, the Clippers weren’t really capable of keeping up with a team that looked a lot more determined to follow through with its game plan regardless of who was on the floor.
Blake Griffin returning is obviously a major key to the Clippers’ hopes of finally putting away all the talk of under performing and not living up to their potential. The Rockets have been dealing with their own injury problems to key players but have what seems to be a better system in order to handle it, not to mention a better player. Harden has his flaws, but is having a very special season while trying to eliminate those shortcomings. Even when it doesn’t work, he seems to have the right kind of assistance.