The last time Jeremy Lin played without James Harden in the lineup, the Houston Rockets still lost, but he had what was probably the best game of his career. The Los Angeles Clippers didn’t make it easy on his team or himself, and made sure there aren’t any surprises.
Hurting his knee in the win against the Warriors, James Harden didn’t suit up for the visit to the Staples Center, as the Rockets now get a week off due to the All-Star game in Houston, with Harden the only one participating, although that might be questionable, depending on his healing factor.
The Clippers, with another game against the Lakers before they get their AS break, were showing the same kind of form they have since Chris Paul returned from his injury, winning for a third straight time in double digits, 106-96. It was actually over way before the final buzzer, as the Rockets came into the second half chasing a 20 point deficit they couldn’t catch up with. Jeremy Lin didn’t enjoy having someone who can create for him playing on his side, and finished with 14 points and 7 assists as the Clippers’ defense focused on him, forcing four turnovers.
Chris Paul wasn’t as brilliant as in the previous two games, finishing with 10 points and 11 assists. The Clippers played their best basketball this season when Paul didn’t have to play like an All-Star. Blake Griffin led the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds, Caron Butler scored 19 points but the biggest addition was the returning Chauncey Billups, starting his comeback for yet another time. Billups scored 19 points, his first double-digit game of the season, and his return means the Clippers, possibly the deepest team in the NBA, just got a lot stronger when it comes to experience (championship experience) and depth.
For the Rockets, it was a different story. Jeremy Lin was the only guard that started, showing just how much Kevin McHale trusts his bench, as Carlos Delfino got to start instead of Harden and provided a terrible game. Delfino is a shooter, nothing more, but without the kind of penetration that forces a defense to squeeze in and leave shooters open, he’s almost useless on the floor, scoring only 3 points with a 1-6 shooting night.
Chandler Parsons, someone who has benefited greatly from Harden’s form in the last couple of weeks, led the team in scoring with 17 points, but couldn’t make any of this three point shots as the Rockets went only 5-24 from beyond the arc. Same style as before, just without the one player that can make them so dangerous in it.
He’s our best player. Anytime your best player goes down it hurts your team, but we had to play without him. We still just need to compete without him because sometimes he’s not going to be there.
But what made life really easy for the Clippers was the non-existent Rockets defense. Not the strongest in the NBA to begin with, not having Harden, a guy who gets players to follow his energy, there was just no one to play “stopper” and galvanize the team into even trying to stop the Clippers, making just under 50% of their shots and 40% of their three pointers.
We had no presence defensively, and it all starts on the defensive end. It was a miserable performance. We’re better than that. We’re in a good spot right now, but we’ve got to win more games and we have to compete better with the elite teams.