In the all important Western Conference standings, this was the biggest game of the night. You had the Los Angeles Clippers, leaders of the Pacific division, facing off against the Houston Rockets, who sat just one-and-a-half back in the Southwest Division, meeting up. Even looking beyond that, the seeding implications in this game were huge. If the Clippers lost, Houston would be three games up in the loss column going into the stretch run of the season and it'd ultimately put the Clippers behind the 8-ball when it comes to homecourt in the first round. But that didn't happen. Instead, the Clippers persevered.
The opening five minutes of the game were straight out of a dream situation. The Clippers jumped out to an early 17-4 lead on the Rockets, who were coming in on the second night of a back-to-back, and it appeared like they'd possibly run Houston right out of STAPLES. But then, as tends to happen in the NBA, the Rockets made a run and cut it down to a 19-17 deficit a mere three minutes later. They went back and forth the rest of the first quarter but when the smoke cleared, the Clippers maintained a 26-22 advantage.
The second quarter didn't start off so well for the Clippers, thanks in large part to the bench concoction that master strategist Doc Rivers strolled out there. Before the starters returned with 7:22 to go in the frame, the Clippers were on the receiving end of a 15-5 run that saw Houston climb ahead to the tune of 36-31. The starters restored order and, about four minutes later, the Clippers were back ahead 46-41. You guessed it. Another run. Sensing a theme? The Rockets did close the first half strong and took a 48-46 lead going into the intermission.
The third quarter was a fairly seesaw affair. Neither team took a lead of greater than 4 points at any point during the period. It was truly remarkable. Any time a game is played within an 8 point window for a duration as long as that, it's pretty impressive and speaks to the sheer evenness of the teams on the court. In that third quarter, we got a nice little wash game between the star players from each side. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin combined for 17 points on 11 shots while James Harden and Dwight Howard combined for 15 points on 8 shots. It was fun to watch.
The fourth quarter is where all the fun started. The Clippers took the opening four minutes of the final quarter with a little 8-3 run that gave them an 82-76 lead. And with half the frame gone, they were up 84-80. That was as close as Houston would get the rest of the game. The real impressive part, though, is who was responsible. It was little Darren Collison. With the Clippers up by 6 with 2:30 to go, Darren Collison scored the next 7 points for the Clippers and did so on three straight possessions. He hit a three, with an assist by Jared Dudley, a nice jumper, and a quality layup that saw him beat Harden and go past Dwight.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Los Angeles Clippers prevailed over the Houston Rockets by the score of 101-93. In that final quarter, the Clippers scored 27 points. Of those 27 points, 19 were scored by Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, and Jared Dudley. Collison, alone, had 12 points in the final frame and outscored James Harden 12 to 5 in the quarter. In the second half, Darren Collison outscored James Harden 17 to 5. It was truly fascinating to watch unfold.
The reason Darren Collison got his chance in the second half, however, was because Jamal Crawford had to leave the game late in the first half with a calf issue. There was no word on the extent of the injury or anything else but that he wouldn't be able to come back into the game. At that point, even though Jamal wasn't playing well (2 of 10 with 2 turnovers), it was still a major blow to a team that was already going through some injuries on the wing -- i.e. J.J. Redick. That didn't matter, though, as Collison stepped up and outperformed Harden on both ends of the court. He played fantastic defense and exhilarating offense.
The other story in this game was Glen "Big Baby" Davis. He didn't see his first action until 1.8 seconds to go in the third quarter. He immediately made an impact by tipping away an offensive rebound chance on a missed free throw by James Harden. In the fourth quarter, he played five minutes and performed admirably. He scored 2 points (off of free throws), grabbed 2 rebounds, had 2 blocks, and gave up 3 fouls. All in all, it was a solid debut for him. The crowd loved him and his energy. Or maybe they just loved that he wasn't Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens, or Antawn Jamison. Either way, kudos to him.
Now, for the second edition of FlyByKnight's Game Ball. I could go a couple ways here. Blake Griffin was sensational with 23 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Chris Paul had a great night of 14 points and 9 assists but only shot 5 of 13. DeAndre Jordan looked great with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks all while keeping Dwight Howard from taking over the game. But I'm going to do something different. I'm going to give out this award as a combo piece.
For my game ball choice, I'm going with the combination of Darren Collison, Glen Davis, and Jared Dudley. The Clippers hit Houston with the 3-D and that was the difference. I already talked about Darren and Davis but what Dudley did cannot be undersold. He went 3 of 5 from three tonight -- which is after he hit his first three attempts -- and also grabbed 4 rebounds. However, his contributions on defense were truly something to behold. In a one-game situation, +/- doesn't tell the whole story. Dudley was -1 but he was +1000 on the court with his intelligence and play. The guy got his confidence back. You could tell it as the game went along. Every shot he took was oozing with more confidence than the last one. So, hats off the entire 3-D crew. Darren, Davis, and Dudley did great.
With the win, the Clippers move to 40-20 and have just 22 games left in the season. It seems like it has flown by. The next game isn't until Saturday, when the Clippers welcome the New Orleans Pelicans into town. The Pelicans aren't without their own injury woes, however, as Anthony Davis only played 13 minutes tonight after injuring his arm against Dallas. So, he might not be ready to go. Either way, the Clippers are now embarking on a stretch where 10 out of the 15 games in March are against teams that are under .500. This could be "go time" for the Clippers in an effort to move up in the Western Conference standings.
All in all, it was a good effort from the Clippers tonight. They finally held a team under 100 points for the first time since February 9th (Philadelphia) and for only the third time in the entire month of February. Let's hope they can continue their recent string and keep the mojo going into March and April. They'll need in order to make some hay in the race. I just hope the Jamal Crawford injury isn't too serious. Onto the next one!
Stat of the Night: Chris Paul touched the ball 93 times and passed it 73 times. He turned it over once.
Secondary Stat: Since the All-Star Break, Chris Paul has 57 assists, touched the ball 480 times, and passed it 375 times. He has just 5 turnovers.
For the Houston Rockets perspective on the game, be sure to check out The Dream Shake.
Popcorn Machine: LAC-HOU GameFlow
NBA.com Interactive Box Score: LAC-HOU Box Score