A day after being eliminated from the playoff race, the Houston Rockets might have been forgiven had they played a lackluster game against the Clippers tonight. After all, they did give two starters the night off (Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry) to rest injuries, and I don't think anyone would have been surprised if they lacked motivation in their first game this season that did not have post season implications. Instead, it was the Clippers who were going through the motions, and the Rockets outplayed them in every aspect of the game on their way to a ridiculously easy 99-78 victory.
Of course the Clippers don't have anything to play for either, and haven't for a while now, but you would think that pride would provide at least enough motivation to actually run up and down the court, as opposed to trotting. The Clippers defense was so porous that Houston appeared to be running layup lines for much of the game. With Scola resting and not a post up threat in sight, the Rockets still managed to outscore the Clippers in the paint 42-38 - basically on layups. After watching Marc Gasol pick them apart with backdoor passes from the high post a couple of games ago in Memphis and the same thing from Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller tonight, I have the urge to track down Pete Carrill and tell him what a genius he is - either that or punch him in the nose. And if I were Vinny Del Negro, I'd maybe coach my defenders a little on opening up on those off ball cuts, and tell my weakside defenders that those passes are coming and they might want to, you know, keep a little eye out for them.
It didn't help that the Clippers couldn't seem to make a shot, but if you're not ready to play, you're not ready to play. Layups, jump shots, dunks - the Clippers missed them all tonight. DeAndre Jordan was the only player to shoot over 50% out of garbage time - and he was only 4 for 7, with one of those being a ball that slipped out of his hands and happened to go in the basket. Blake Griffin missed three dunks, which tells you a lot about how the night went for the Clippers. They finished making just 33 of 95 shots for 34.7% from the field, their fourth worst shooting game of the season.
I wish I could say that the key to the game I highlighted in the preview turned out to indeed be the determining factor. Yes, Chuck Hayes was allowed to bully Blake Griffin, and Hayes managed to pick up only two fouls while pushing and shoving and leaning on Griffin all night, which is really quite remarkable. But whereas it was certainly symptomatic of the Clippers' utter futility in this game, that specific matchup was far from decisive. The Clippers would have lost this game even if Hayes had battled foul trouble all night. Hayes has at this point harried Griffin into two of his worst games of the season. That's quite an accomplishment. Even more remarkable is that Hayes' line tonight was decidedly better, across the box score, than Griffin's:
- Hayes - 12 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 6 for 9 shooting.
- Griffin - 13 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 6 for 18 shooting.
But maybe I'm not giving Hayes enough credit - after all, he recorded a triple double last week. Not bad for a defensive specialist.
Ralph and Mike said on more than one occasion during the broadcast that they thought this was the worst performance of the season by the Clippers. I'm not sure that's necessarily true - but it's certainly a candidate. The game in Phoenix just eight days ago is another possibility. As are games in Indiana in November and in Memphis in March. Actually, there's an interesting trend in those bad losses - all of them came at the end of road trips. I'm not sure what that means, but is it possible that this oh so young team is failing to focus, thinking about getting back to El Lay, forgetting that they have a job to do?
I wanted to turn off the TV - and from the looks of things, with a mere 39 comments on the second half thread, most of you actually did. It was the right decision, I assure you. At least there aren't any more road games.
One last snarky note - Ralph and Mike referred to Chase Budinger of the Rockets at one point as "sneaky athletic." Um, no. He's an athletic freak. It's sort of a pet peeve of mine that white guys are never recognized as simply being athletic, as opposed to "surprisingly athletic" or some such. I've seen Budinger's vertical leap listed as high as 45 inches - it's certainly over 40. The guy is a world class athlete - and yes, he's also white. It's OK. It happens.