In a dirty, aggressive game between two teams with a lot to play for, the Houston Rockets came away with the 100-98 win behind an excellent free throw shooting performance from James Harden, while teammate Patrick Beverley made things very difficult for Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers, not giving Blake Griffin a pleasant welcome back game from injury.
Griffin missed 15 games with a staph infection in his elbow, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds on his return. He also turned the ball over five times and committed five personal fouls, looking more than once a little bit out of rhythm and balance. That’s understandable, but it’s also something that the Clippers need him to quickly snap out of because they’re in quite a tight battle for the fifth spot in the West next to the Mavericks and the Spurs.
The Rockets winning gives them a little bit of distance (2.5 games) from the trio mentioned above. The Rockets not having Dwight Howard is old news. It seems the team is more than accustomed to playing without him. Harden didn’t need help scoring this time, finishing with 34 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Half of his points came from the line (17-of-18), proving the theory that Harden’s scoring mostly depends on how referees perceive the contact he’s getting.
Besides the 34 from Harden, the Rockets also got 19 from Ariza, 16 (with 12 rebounds) from Terrence Jones and 11 by Patrick Beverley, who also made Chris Paul look very bad for most of the night. Even when it wasn’t Beverley, like on the Clippers’ last play, Paul struggled. Trevor Ariza was covering him for the final 8.2 seconds of the game. Paul tried finding a way to the rim but air balled his chance to send the game into overtime.
Paul was limited to 2-of-10 from the field when Beverley was guarding him (7-of-21 overall). He was only 3-of-14 on jump shots for the day, including 1-of-8 without anyone contesting his shots. Sure, the defense wore him down, but this was also one of those bad days every good shooter has once in a while. He scored 23 points, but maybe having just five assists is the most telling number about how difficult it was for the Clippers to get easy shots against Houston.
Another problem for the Clippers which isn’t a new one was DeAndre Jordan blowing every opportunity he had from the line, shooting just 1-of-8. The Rockets denied him the opportunity to get more than a second or two in the paint, often ending with a dunk. He scored just 5 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and adding 4 blocked shots. Matt Barnes, who wasn’t far from being ejected for his flagrant foul and other behavior, scored 19 points.