James Harden, free throw king

In a game with a total of 96 free throws, it was, surprise surprise, the Houston Rockets to pull through, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 115-109. Blake Griffin was huge but got tired, James Harden made the most of the situation and Dwight Howard couldn’t stop missing from the line, but was extremely dominant otherwise.

This was beyond the referees helping out one of the teams or some conspiracy like occurrence. The officials called every little bit of contact, in the paint or outside of it. The Rockets shot 64 times from the line (hitting only 42 of those shots). The Clippers, suffering from a bad day from almost everyone but Blake Griffin, got to the line 32 times, making 25 of those shots.

The Rockets understood what was going on quickly. Dwight Howard went to the line 21 times, hitting only 8 shots. James Harden, simply pushing himself into the paint knowing that any bit of contact will get him a free throw, got 15 opportunities to hit a wide open shot worth one point. He made all 15 of those shots on another bad shooting game from him.

Griffin scored 34 points, 26 of them in the first half. He needed rest which Doc Rivers didn’t give him, but was about the only one of the Clippers’ key players in good shooting form. We’re not counting DeAndre Jordan in that kind of calculation because he’s not a shooter. He was 6-for-6 from the field, but his range is about five feet from the basket at most. The problem was J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Austin Rivers and especially Jamal Crawford, shooting 6-of-22 from the field.

Without Chris Paul, it’s not going to change. When Griffin is on the floor almost everything will flow through him. It doesn’t seem anyone, including Dwight Howard, has a chance of slowing him down. But Griffin gets tired, and at some point that means Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu taking his place in the lineup, and that’s usually when things look really bad for the Clippers.

The Rockets aren’t playing great basketball, despite the win and levelling the series. James Harden is taking a lot of bad shots, Terrence Jones isn’t giving them what they need from a power forward, slightly overwhelmed by the whole situation. Things went a lot smoother in the previous series, and despite the Clippers playing without Chris Paul, the Rockets would probably be 0-2 down right now if it wasn’t for the officials bailing them out with a horrendously piece of refereeing.

The Clippers, without Paul, are in a bind. Griffin is playing some tremendous basketball, but it seems that it’s more important how much Austin Rivers f**** up or not and whether or not Jamal Crawford plans on hitting some of his shots. He’s not going to change, so the Clippers need to either limit his minutes on the floor, or simply hope his shots drop. Without Paul, there aren’t that many options, not with the disastrous bench they have.

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