In a night that was all about Western conference basketball, the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks 103-94 to conclude their series 4-1, while the San Antonio Spurs have the advantage in the best series of the playoffs so far, narrowly beating the Los Angeles Clippers 111-107 to get a 3-2 lead.
The 3-point approach wasn’t at its most accurate (10-of-31), but combined with the dominance of Dwight Howard in the paint it worked quite well. James Harden scored 28 points with 8 assists, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, as the trick of putting Al-Farouq Aminu on him didn’t work for a second time. Howard scored 18 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and was a juggernaut defensively with 4 blocks and 4 steals.
Josh Smith had another fantastic game off the bench, scoring 20 points to go with his 8 rebounds. The Mavericks stayed close for most of the game, with Monta Ellis scoring 25 and Dirk Nowitzki adding 22. Their defense wasn’t up to the task two games in a row of slowing down a better, more talented and complete team, completing a third first round exit in the last four years.
The Rockets are in the conference semifinals for the first time since 2009; Harden has his first achievement on his new team. Dwight Howard is in the next round for the first time since 2010. This is a franchise hungry for success, and with stars that are just as hungry, aspiring to do a lot more than just advance one round in these playoffs.
A team that’s used to making it through and far are the San Antonio Spurs, and they’re once again up on the Clippers in an excellent game. Tim Duncan doesn’t run out of that special something, scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds, not letting the age difference between him and Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan get in the way. The Spurs got a lot from their bench, including 14 points for Manu Ginobili, 13 points from Patty Mills and 10 for Boris Diaw, including one of the craziest shots we’ve seen this season.
The Clippers got a great game from Griffin (30 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists) that included a lot of high flying theatrics from him and DeAndre Jordan (21 points, 14 rebounds, 7-of-16 from the line). However, Chris Paul with 19 points and 10 assists kind of faded away in the final quarter, the referees weren’t exactly calling it fairly and it all came down to one unfortunate tip by Jordan, as a Griffin floater bounced on the rim. Jordan went for the tip in that would have given the Clippers a 109-108 lead with 4.3 seconds remaining, but it was overruled, called for offensive interference.
Doc Rivers whined, but there’s nothing new about that. He always complains, and it’s never his fault. Sure, the referees weren’t gracious to the Clippers, but Tim Duncan was hacked under the basket quite a lot and no whistle was heard. This isn’t what happened last year with the Thunder. Bottom line is the Clippers are on the verge of a second first round exit in three years, despite all that’s been done. Some might call it being unlucky, but maybe there’s a deeper flaw in place.