Game five of the young 2011-2012 season gave the Los Angeles Clippers another chance to move their record above .500 and gain an important win against a gritty western conference foe in the Houston Rockets, who were coming off a nine point loss against the Lakers the night before. The Clippers also welcomed back Chauncey Billups to the starting lineup and new Clipper Solomon Jones, while Houston was without key reserve Courtney Lee. Clearly, the Clippers took full advantage of this favorable situation (Box Score), and have brought back some buzz to the team after a shaky showing in San Antonio and a sloppy 4th quarter against the Trailblazers on New Year's day.
The 1st half went pretty smooth indeed with the Clippers building a 12 point advantage, and with the first quarter being a season high in scoring for the Clips, as they put up 41 points in impressive fashion. Chauncey seemed to really help the flow of the offense, and we saw Chris Paul play a much more aggressive role early in the game tonight, and to great effect. CP3 scored in the paint several times, while showing his mid-range and long range shooting abilities to the tune of 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting, with 7 assists against 1 turnover, plus 2 steals and a three-pointer. In a formful reflection of this Clipper team as a whole, they displayed dynamic offense, shooting just south of 70% from the field for the half, and while not showing particularly good defense, at least early on as Kyle Lowry continued his hot play.
However, the starters picked up where they left off in the first half and really separated in the 3rd quarter, at one point extending the lead to a climactic 23 points after Chris Paul dished out back to back lobs to DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. I thought Mike Smith said it well on the telecast directly after the dunks, "It's almost like it just all opened up to CP3's vision."
Houston showed some fight directly afterwards, quickly cutting the lead down to 13 points, and Samuel Dalembert even gave Blake a shove while absent-mindedly practicing layups after a foul. It could have been a turning point in the game, and looking back I had to question Vinny Del Negro's decision to stick with the starters late in the 3rd quarter after the lead stretched out to 23, but he followed with some smart rotations I thought. Instead of taking all the starters out when the game could have turned, he kept Blake and CP3 on the floor, and that was the beginning of the blowout that was to come.
Randy Foye of all people helped the Clippers ice the game with hot shooting and some aggressive defensive play. In 18 minutes, he finished with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. In fact, the second unit had their most impressive outing on the year (with the exception of Brian Cook), and granted most of their contributions came when the game was already decided. Ryan Gomes was quiet, but effective with 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and no significant mistakes. Mo Williams had 7 assists against 0 turnovers, and hitting 3 of 6 shots in 22 minutes. Maybe learning something from CP3? Trey Thompkins continues to look like an asset for the bench, and Foye's hot shooting also allowed Solomon Jones to make his debut and for Travis Leslie to see some limited action.
Despite some good play by the bench, make no mistake - it was the stars that came out to play tonight and propelled the team to victory. Together, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin shot 19 - 29 from the field, good for 65.5%. Chris Paul led such a cohesive attack that Griffin didn't need to dominate like he's had to recently. Griffin did well with his regular ration of possessions, having a nice overall game while really showing some offensive balance and dimension. He took it to the rim, displayed a couple of nifty post moves, and had his outside shot falling. He finished with 22 points on 10-15 shooting, with 9 rebounds, and 3 assists. His match-up with Scola was a little worrying going into the game, but aside from some early lapses he settled in and played ok defensively, while showing good desire to rebound, and chipping in two steals and a block.
DeAndre played competently all around, but more importantly, he played efficiently. We'll take 2-2 from the field, 3-4 from the stripe, and 8 rebounds against 0 turnovers and 1 foul any day, won't we? It'll be one of the few nights he out-shoots Blake Griffin from the foul line, who managed just 2 of 5.
Another interesting matchup going into the game was Billups against Kevin Martin. I can remember Martin giving Eric Gordon some problems in the past, and as many of us have been worried about the drop off in perimeter D from Gordon to Billups, this factor didn't come in to play tonight.
As a whole, the entire starting unit looked really good tonight, including Caron Butler. He didn't help as much on the boards tonight, but he seems to be fitting in well, especially in terms of shot distribution. If he and Chauncey take turns being the 3rd option with around 10 shots a game, that seems just about right. Tonight it was Butler, taking 10 shots in contrast to 15 for Blake, and 14 for Chris.
Looking at the final shooting numbers, the Clippers post an impressive number of 57.3% shooting from the field, while the Rockets cooled off in the 2nd half to finish at 46.1%. Rebounding was even at 33 a piece, and the Clippers win big in controlling the ball. They had just 7 turnovers to Houston's 19.
In the end, it's just one game and it's unclear how much Houston was affected by playing a pretty tough game last night, but it felt like the Clippers outclassed the Rockets and that the on court chemistry is starting to gel. You could tell the guys were having fun out there, and it's nice to see the starters cheering from the bench in the 4th quarter. Read into it what you will, but I'm paying attention to the Laker implications as well. We just beat the same team as they did by a significantly larger margin. While they played the Bulls much closer, it felt good to kind of even the score against out of town guests.