There was a LOT going on in this battle between these two Western Conference up and comers. There was the simple one- on-one battle for the third seed (which may in practical terms, mean absolutely nothing) but both teams came in injured with Dwight Howard out after a cyst was removed from his ankle, knee surgery for the defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley on the Houston side, and today's news for the Clippers that recent addition Danny Granger was sent home to LA to rest an injured hamstring. The Clippers are already missing starting shooting guard JJ Redick, could this get any worse?
Well with five and a half minutes left in the first quarter it did get worse... a lot worse. I played it over and over on the DVR and I didn't see anything happen... Griffin shared a couple of ordinary-looking shoves with Dontas Montejunerociouvicius and suddenly Blake did a slow dive to the ground. He was essentially untouched, like the Sonny Liston dive against Floyd Patterson back in '63 (I think it was Liston, I think it was Patterson, and I'm guessing that it was '63, but trust me, Liston took a dive). Or maybe it was one of those Bruce Lee secret punches or the thing John Goodman talked about in "Inside Llewyn Davis". Bruce punches you and you barely feel it, you get up and walk around, and suddenly a week after it happens, you fall down and you die. So maybe Blake got this secret punch from... let's see, Andrew Bogut, and even though it happened two weeks ago, the punch was all loaded up with some serious ju-ju, not the one dead cat kind but the five chickens and ten goats kind, some serious Santeria heavy duty dark dark vodun, no what I'm saying? And Mark Jackson and Bogut, we know damn well they'd go there, right?Anyway, it pays off tonight because the Wicked Ginger goes down without reason and he is practically carried off the court and he DISAPPEARS for the rest of the night with the what's diagnosed euphemistically as "BACK SPASMS"... which is probably what the trainer says when there's no box to check for "Strange Voodoo Curse". Anyway, there you have it. Blakes out for the game, and yes, perhaps longer...
So the Clips are down their best scorer, who is also probably, right now, their best player and can you say, "woe-is-me?" Because Houston is a good team with some good players and they've already been shut down THREE times this year by the Clips and I'm quite sure they're not happy about that and they're home where THEY HAVE NOT LOST IN OVER A MONTH.
So it looks bad for the Clips, right? Only thing is, and I think we've all forgotten a little about him, the Clips have a guy named CHRIS PAUL who as we all know (I"m looking at you Jerdog) too SMALL to win in the NBA. (Only he's not, not at all.) Because after the Clippers fall behind by fifteen in the first quarter, Chris Paul zooms in out of nowhere like a goddamned superhero, rallies the Clips, scores 17 on his own in the second quarter and the Clips are up by four at the half 61-57.
Of course a couple of other things we should talk about also happen in that first half. First, and I'm not sure of the order of events here, Doc Rivers replaced the fallen Flyin' Lion with Captain Beefcake, Glen Davis. Stuff happens, Mr. Rivers doesn't like what he sees and he replaces Beef with the seldom seen Ryan "Hack Machine" Hollins. I guess Beef Baby doesn't like that, he shoots off his mouth (guessing again) and the next thing we know is Mr. Davis is off to the locker room for what might be called a "timeout". (I'm not actually sure if it happened before or after Hollins went into the game, but it's enough to note that Davis was not to appear either on the bench or in the game for the rest of the evening.)
The other thing we should note is that there's a heavily advertised third "big" of the big three and that's DeAndre Jordan and I don't want to suggest that Jordan played badly, he didn't, he played well, except that he went to the free throw line six times in the first half and he made one of them. One. Uno. I'm sorry, but that stinks, even for DJ. (This note will have significance later, I promise you.)
The third frame is a tough, tight quarter of basketball. Paul is all-everything, the opposite of that guy who didn't show up against the Pelicans the other night. And surprisingly, to me anyway, is how good James Harden plays for the Rockets. Historically he has SUCKED OUT LOUD against the Clippers but he is the other-Harden tonight, the one with that dynamite first step, the silky dribble and the smooth shot. He's good, really good... just not quite as good as Chris Paul. The Clips are up by four at the end of three, 88-84.
And now the fourth, Harden and Paul start off on the bench. The Clips also keep DeAndre Jordan on the bench, and Doc Rivers rolls out a lineup of Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Darren Collison, Hollins, and Jamal Crawford. It's a weird lineup and who knows what to think but I'm thinking Clips lead is gonna vanish like a summer breeze. But no, because here's the thing, the Clips bench isn't very good... but the Houston bench is worse! A lot worse! Clips stretch the lead out to eleven with 8 minutes to go... and, at 7 minutes, here come Paul and Harden to slug out the last stretch to the finish.
Only then some stupid stuff happens which we cannot ignore. Houston coach, Kevin McHale, trailing by half a dozen or more decides to hack DeAndre Jordan and send him to the line. Jordan does okay, making better than half his shots (he finished at 6-14, which still stinks, though slightly less). But the strategy also takes the air out of the game and seems to kill whatever spirit the Rockets had left. Matt Barnes and Darren Collison hit a pair of threes with around three minutes left and it was over.
Remember that thing back about a month ago where the Clippers discovered they could win without Chris Paul. Well, sometimes it appears, they can win without Blake Griffin too.
On the Prime Ticket feed Mike Smith remarked that the Clippers broke their own record shooting 39 (it became 41) three point shots though they only made 12 of them. (Chris Paul was 5 of 9).
Not to ignore some other contributors, Matt Barnes struggled from three again (3-10) but pulled down ten boards on a night where the Clips desperately needed them (they were out rebounded 49-43) and he was +18. Jamal Crawford scored 22, and contributed a few critical baskets. Chris Paul finished with 30 points, 12 dimes, and 1 turnover. He's short but he's good.
For the Rockets Harden put up 32, and Chandler Parsons put up a super-efficient 28 and 9 boards.
The Clippers head north to Minnesota where they'll play Kevin Love and the Timberwolves on Monday night. Keep your fingers crossed about Griffin.