The Clippers held the Rockets' two leading scorers, Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza, who average 17 points each, to 7 points apiece, on combined 4 for 19 shooting. They also limited the Rockets to 5 for 18 from three, including 1 for their last 10 - three point shooting being a key to the Rockets win over the Clippers earlier this month. So you'd think this game might have gone LA's way. You'd think.
Instead, every other Rocket player picked up the slack, first and foremost Carl Landry. Playing just a couple days after major oral surgery to repair the damage done by Dirk Nowitzki's elbow, Landry scored 27 points on 7 for 10 shooting and 13 of 15 free throws. The Clippers hung around in the second half, and cut the lead to two in the fourth quarter. But they never led after the last minute of the first quarter, and the Rockets prevaild 108 to 99.
I actually spent all day today at Disneyland with the family. I watched the game on the DVR about midnight after getting home, and so it's pretty late as I work on this recap. Which is my way of saying, lower your expectations. I don't know why the Clippers couldn't stop - couldn't come close to stopping, really - Landry, Luis Scola, or David Andersen, who combined to shoot 19 for 27. Someone commented on the preview today that the Rockets are the anti-Clippers. The Clippers have tons of talent on paper, but seem to underachieve on the floor. The Rockets are the opposite. When the Clippers need a player to step up, it almost never happens. The Rockets are the opposite. When the Clippers need a bucket, they get a turnover. When the Rockets need a play - they get a play. They are the anti-Clippers.
Case in point - the Rockets are an undersized team, and as such they are 27th in the league in blocked shots. With the Clippers still clinging to a faint hope in this game, down six with the ball with a minute to go, Ariza blocked Eric Gordon's layup. Still down six seconds later, Scola blocked Baron Davis' layup. The Rockets, the fourth worst shot blocking team in the league, got three blocked shots in the final minute of the game. Why? Because they needed them.
By contrast, when the Clippers got the lead down to 2 at 91-89 early in the fourth quarter, and had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, they really needed a bucket. But when Baron dished out of the lane to the corner to Rasual Butler deep in the shot clock, Butler decided to pass up the three ball, and instead earned a shot clock violation. The next trip down, Craig Smith took a nice pass from Kaman and instead of going straight up with it, he decided to loop under the basket, and instead stepped out of bounds. The next trip Gordon missed a fast break layup (he reacted as if he was fouled). The next trip Butler missed a three. The next trip, Kaman turned the ball over. By the end of this sequence, the Clippers had on five key possessions turned the ball over three times, missed on layup, and missed one three. And suddenly instead of being down 2, they were down 10. Game over.
The Clippers squandered a career high 29 points from Chris Kaman and a 50% shooting night for the team. But Eric Gordon struggled, and with Houston scoring 65 points in the first half and 108 in the game, LA needed Gordon to shoot better than 6 for 17 in a shootout.
Last thing - it's pretty clear that fouls were a factor in this game. The Clippers were not getting a lot of whistles from the refs, something that did not go unnoticed by MDsr and Kaman, who each picked up technical fouls arguing non-calls (and for what it's worth, they were both bad calls - Kaman was definitely fouled each time). Houston took 17 more free throws in the game, and made 11 of them. That was more than enough to get them over the top.