In what was a tightly contested game through the first three quarters, the Clippers' bench woes once again surfaced and created a deficit the starters were unable make-up. The Chris Paul and company were able to close the gap to 4 late but struggled to make shots in the closing minute. Paul finished with 22 points and 14 assists.
James Harden struggled from the field early on, as per usual when facing the Clippers, but was still a big factor in the game distributing the ball and getting to the line. Harden was able to turn it on when it mattered, making a few clutch plays down the stretch. One pull-up in the lane invoked Lawler's Law and sealed the Clippers fate.
Outside of a15-1 Rockets run to start the 4th, the Clippers played a decent game. The usual suspects shined while Spencer Hawes continued to struggle. Jamal Crawford was unconscious in the first half, racking up 18 points on 7/11 shooting. Jamal finished with a team-high 24 points. DeAndre Jordan had another double-double with 22 points and 19 rebounds. He did miss two late free throws that could have made it a one possession game.
A notable aspect in this contest was the Clippers' inability to execute at the close of quarters. Outside of the 3rd, every quarter ended in a botched or desperation play.
At the close of the first quarter the Clippers had the ball down 27-26. Chris Paul dribbled out the clock and the hoisted a last second three that was blocked. The end of the second saw a Paul lob to DJ rattle out. The third saw the only successful closing play. Trailing by one, Jamal drove the lane and laid in a beauty to put the Clippers up 85-84.
The end of the fourth saw the Clippers down by 5 with the ball and 29 seconds left. JJ missed a long-range curl for 3, Josh Smith got the rebound but fumbled the ball out out bounds. The Clippers got another chance to make it a one possession game with 20.9 on the clock. Paul missed a floater in the lane, DJ got the ball and was promptly fouled. He missed both chances at the line. Luckily, Smith got the rebound and missed both his free throws. Clippers got the ball again with 11 seconds remaining. The Rockets completely shut down the inbounds play and Paul could do little more the heave a desperation 3 that missed. That was the game.
The Rockets also kept to their rep from beyond the arc, making 17 of 44 3-pointers. Compare that to the Clippers' 11 of 32 and you have the margin in the game.
With the exception of Jamal, the bench was pretty bad tonight. If you include Hawes, the Crawford-less back-ups were a combined 5-22 from the field with 6 turnovers. If pressed to find a silver lining, Hawes had 8 rebounds and Big Baby had 6. Still, looking around the Western Conference, you wonder if this bench will be enough come late April.
The game featured 16 ties and 15 lead changes. The Clippers will look to avoid a 3-game losing streak when they face the Grizzlies in Memphis on Friday.