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Clippers Burned By Refs and Rockets, 109-105

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A late and controversial no-call was just one of many ugly sights on an ugly night.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, there are different versions of the truth. There's The Truth, draining yet another clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 105 with 40 seconds left. Then there's the truth. And the truth, lowercase, is that Dwight Howard goaltended a Blake Griffin putback that would have tied the game again at 107 with just 20 seconds remaining. The sad truth is that the referees missed the call, and even though there was an official review immediately thereafter to determine possession, the goaltending, or alleged lack thereof, was not reviewable.

Of course, there are other truths, one of which may be that had the Clippers not struggled in the third and fourth quarters, the game would not have been close enough to be largely decided by a late no-call.

The Clipper bench unit, which had impressed during its turn in the first half, blew a Clipper lead after returning in the second half. Jamal Crawford entered the game with 2:59 remaining in the third quarter, followed one-by-one by his fellow reserves until the Rockets had flipped a 3-point deficit to a 4-point lead to begin the fourth.

The ugliness didn't end there. Houston's lead swelled to as much as 11 before the Clippers, sparked by a spectacular Griffin, closed the gap, albeit in a painfully slow, circuitous way.

Both teams took turns employing the Hack-A strategy. Doc Rivers started it, first by sending Clint Capela to the line, then Dwight Howard after him. The Rockets in turn showed DeAndre Jordan to the line, and this free throw hanky panky slowed down what had been a fast-paced game and ironically delayed the Clippers' comeback.

Tonight's game won't be counted among Doc's finest moments. He seemed to be reacting to his counterpart's moves instead of dictating to them. Doc's rotation choices, oft-maligned around these pages lately, appeared poorly timed and planned. Kevin McHale's seemed just the opposite. The Rockets coach began the second and fourth quarters with units including two of his three stars, Ty Lawson and Dwight Howard, and this undoubtedly contributed to the changing tide the Clippers found themselves unable to stem.

All of this obscured what should have been the real truth of this game: the starlit shootout. Griffin, clad like an outlaw in black, dueled the equally transcendent James Harden through a first half that featured very little defense and many, many baskets. Harden scored 25 first-half points en route to 46 on the night, but Blake nearly matched him with 20 before the half. Griffin would finish with 35/11/5 and a justifiably blown temper.

It also obscured another truth, that it matters when you are missing all-world point guard Chris Paul. The Clipper offense looked sharp in spurts, but with the indecisive Austin Rivers at the helm, too many possessions fizzled in places where the absent Paul would have made them pop.

In the end, game six ended much like the more infamous Game Six, with the Clippers suffering from both frustration and defeat. Thankfully, this game six comes with much lower stakes. This time, we know there will be more games to play after game seven.

Notables:

  • Dwight Howard had a monstrous 20/20 night, with 7 offensive boards... JJ Redick was the best non-Blake Clipper, scoring 19 and frequently keying the offense... Both teams' three-point woes continued. The Rockets made 7of 30 (23.3%) from deep, which actually bettered the Clippers' 4 of 22 (18.2%)... Blake didn't just star offensively. He showed off his fancy feet at the defensive end, taking turns slowing/stopping Trevor Ariza (1-8 from the field) and hassling Harden after switches.
  • Do the Clippers have the best point guard depth in the NBA? Chris Paul obviously adds a lot to that, but having Austin Rivers, overmatched as a starter but valuable as a reserve defender, and Pablo Prigioni, the best damn third-stringer around, might seal it.
  • The Rockets came out playing zone for the first possessions after some timeouts and stoppages. I haven't seen many teams do this against the Clippers, but I have to wonder if this is a way of throwing a changeup at heralded clipboard play-designer Doc Rivers. Have you seen other teams do this regularly?
  • This lob and jam, which I present without further comment: