Led by Dwight Howard's 22 points and 14 rebounds, the Rockets defeated the L.A. Clippers 107-97 Saturday night in Houston. The Clips were able to make a game of it for a while after falling into an early 43-17 hole, but ultimately didn't have enough energy to keep up after playing in San Antonio just 24 hours prior.
The wear-and-tear from last night's game was never more evident than it was in the first. L.A. came out of the gates completely flat on both ends of the floor. The Rockets were able to get whatever they wanted, while the Clips were relegated to taking tough shots. LAC attempted nine threes in the first quarter alone, making just one. Meanwhile, Houston took 17 shots in the paint, making 11. As a result, L.A. was outscored 22-8 in the lane. Luc Mbah a Moute picked up three fouls in the first four minutes, never to be seen again.
The Rockets were also dominating the boards. Houston outrebounded the Clippers by an insane 20-5 margin in the first, including six offensive boards. Fortunately for L.A., the Rockets weren't able to capitalize on those chances, scoring only five second-chance points. Houston was making a point of testing those Clipper tired legs, pushing the pace and trying to force the issue.
Things continued to go down the drain for the Clippers early in the second. Clint Capela was a total handful on both ends, grabbing every rebound in sight while also affecting LAC's shot attempts in the paint. Down 44-23 midway through the second, Doc Rivers decided to do what we all feared: intentionally foul. The final six-plus minutes of the frame lasted an eternity as each team decided against playing actual basketball.
The teams combined to shoot 23 free throws from that point until the end of the first half, and the Clips were actually able to make some hay during that span. They took turns fouling both Howard and Capela, and the two combined to make 8-of-19 from the stripe. On the other end, the Clippers started to find an offensive rhythm, and closed the gap to 57-46 at the break after trailing by as many as 26 earlier in the period.
The "Core Four" Clippers were the ones doing almost all of the damage. Paul Pierce hit a three-pointer with just over a minute to go in the half, which were the only points scored by someone not named Jordan, Griffin, Paul or Redick in the second quarter. Unsurprisingly, they were the only four Clippers to finish the game in double-figures.
As mentioned earlier, Mbah a Moute didn't play after the 6:54 mark of the first. Jamal Crawford started the second half in his place, though was completely ineffective on both ends. Jamal scored just four points on 1-for-8 shooting, all while playing non-existent defense. In nearly 10 minutes of action in the third, Crawford shot 0-for-3 and picked up a rebound.
Both teams sputtered to start the second half, but the Clippers were able to cut the deficit to eight following five straight points from Redick. A trio of Trevor Ariza three-pointers subsequently helped restore the Rockets' advantage, though, and L.A. was never able to truly threaten again. Crawford was "checking" Ariza on each possession, for what it's worth. James Harden was picking the Clippers apart with his passing, as he was repeatedly able to find shooters open on the perimeter. The Beard scored just 18 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the floor, but also chimed-in with a game-high 11 assists. The Rockets extended their lead to 12 at the end of the third after Marcus Thornton stole a rebound away from Lance Stephenson and scored just before the horn. This just about summed up the night for the Clippers. Lance, meanwhile, was scoreless in 20 hapless minutes off-the-bench.
LAC missed a boatload of their attempts short, which is a clear sign that they were tired following last night's war against the Spurs. There's never an excuse for getting blown-out, but it would also be silly to draw too many negative conclusions from this one. Winning on the road is always tough, especially when you're on the second half of a back-to-back while the other team has had a couple of days off. Houston hasn't played well so far this season, but it's still a roster loaded with talent.
As you may expect from a team playing on tired legs, the Clips weren't able to mount much resistance on the boards. Houston crushed them on the glass by a 55-38 margin, including 13-to-7 on the offensive end. Howard and Capela combined to grab 11 of those 13 offensive rebounds and gave the Clippers fits throughout. The "hack-a" strategy didn't pay dividends, either, as the Rockets connected on 31-of-49 foul shots (63%) for the game.
Excluding a couple of positive Josh Smith moments, this was a dismal all-around effort from the bench. The Clipper reserves combined to score 28 points, though most of those came during garbage time when the likes of Cole Aldrich and Pablo Prigioni saw the light of day. To (literally) add injury to insult, Austin Rivers suffered a nasty-looking ankle injury late in the fourth. He had to be helped to the locker room and wasn't putting any weight on that right ankle. No word yet on his status for Monday's game against OKC, but it didn't look good. He was reportedly on crutches in the locker room afterwards.
When you're fatigued, on the road and unable to match your opponent's energy level, more often than not you're going to find yourself on the losing end, as the Clippers (16-12) did tonight. Rather than try and penetrate, the Clippers were quite content to just fire away from the perimeter. They shot just 39% from the floor, and a putrid 29% on a whopping 38 three-point tries. Not exactly a recipe for success. This was always going to be a tough two-game mini road swing, and tonight makes last night's close loss hurt just a little bit more. Here's hoping they can regroup and come out strong when they're back at it against a tough Thunder team in Los Angeles Monday night.