No Chris Paul didn’t stop the huge momentum the Los Angeles Clippers have, beating the Houston Rockets 117-101, led by another triple double from Blake Griffin while James Harden, Dwight Howard and their teammates simply gave up on the game in the final two minutes when they saw it’s too difficult to keep up with their rivals.
So many words have been written about how the Clippers would handle the absence of Paul, out with a hamstring injury. Turns out that even Austin Rivers in the lineup makes up for that if the team cohesion is good enough. The rotation is still very short and the Clippers pretty much rely on six players, each game rotating the group, but everyone Doc Rivers turned to was jackpot.
Griffin punished the Rockets for leaving him open for mid range jumpers, something he keeps improving in. He finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. In almost every game I cover I mention how great it is to see Griffin improving from a highlight monster into a complete, scary, big-time and big-game player. He just might be the best in his position in the NBA, and someone a team can move the offense through without worrying about losing a step.
Matt Barnes keeps coming up big and made the most of the Rockets’ despair on defense. After a hot start Houston had some bad defensive possessions and they seemed unable to rebound from that. Barnes scored 20 points on 8-of-11 from the field; J.J. Redick had 17, hitting a lot of open shots. Austin Rivers scored 17 points although the Clippers were often better without him on the floor. Jamal Crawford scored 21 points off the bench and DeAndre Jordan had a 10 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks performance, finishing with 6-of-11 from the line, which is incredibly successful for him.
On the other end, it was overall disappointment. The Rockets didn’t play like a team. Maybe James Harden was angry at losing in the MVP voting, but he didn’t look like the player who can combine incredible individual ability and making everyone around him better. His 20 points and 12 assists numbers don’t tell the whole story. He turned the ball over nine times, failed to get the benefit of the doubt from referees and seemed to regress defensively into the form that made him a laughing stock in that aspect last season.
One huge different from the series against the Mavericks was their inability to dominate the paint. The Rockets grabbed just six offensive rebounds, and Dwight Howard, despite his 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks, didn’t get to dominate easily like he had his way with Tyson Chandler. Maybe more Josh Smith minutes instead of Terrence Jones would have worked. Jones scored just 4 points while Smith, despite not scoring a lot (9 points, 3-of-12 from the field) was a much more positive presence defensively.
Making Chris Paul’s absence not matter is one impressive accomplishment for the Clippers, taking the 1-0 lead. The more surprising piece of evidence to turn up was how weak mentally the Rockets seemed to be, folding every time one of their runs was stopped. Surely this team has more to give in this series, and it’ll begin with Harden playing in a more responsible way. There’s more to this team than just him, but unlike the Clippers, the Rockets can’t do it without their best player.