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Clippers-Rockets Game 4 Preview: A Chance to Take Command

Coming off a dominating performance on Friday night, can the Clippers carry the momentum through to take a suffocating 3-1 series lead over Houston?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2015 NBA Playoffs
Second Round


Series Schedule
Game 1 - Mon May 4, 6:30 p.m. in Houston, Clippers 117 Rockets 101
Game 2 - Wed May 6, 6:30 p.m. in Houston, Rockets 115 Clippers 109.
Game 3 - Fri May 8, 7:30 Los Angeles, Clippers 124 Rockets 99.
TONIGHT, 5:30 p.m. TNT, STAPLES Center
Game 5*  Tue May 12, Time TBD, TNT, Houston, TOYOTA Center
Game 6*  Thu May 14, Time TBD, TNT, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 7* Sat May 16, Time TBD, TNT, Houston, TOYOTA Center
* if necessary
Win-Loss Breakdown
19-11 East 23-7
37-15 West 33-19
30-11 Home 30-11
26-15 Road 26-15
19-22 .500+ 21-21
37-4 .500- 35-5
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jason Terry
J.J. Redick SG James Harden
Matt Barnes SF Trevor Ariza
Blake Griffin PF Terrence Jones
DeAndre Jordan C Dwight Howard
Key Reserves
Austin Rivers PG Pablo Prigioni
Jamal Crawford SG Nick Johnson
Hedo Turkoglu SF Corey Brewer
Glen Davis PF Josh Smith
Spencer Hawes C Clint Capela
Advanced Stats 2014-2015 Regular Season
96.96 (11th of 30) Pace 99.25 (2nd of 30)
109.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 104.2 (12th of 30)
103.0 (15th of 30) DRtg 100.5 (6th of 30)
Chris Paul (hamstring) probable
Patrick Beverley (wrist surgery) out

Donatas Motiejunas (back) out

K.J. McDaniels (wrist) out

The Back Story (The teams split the regular season series 2-2):

Date Venue Final

Clippers 102, Rockets 85
Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 110, Rockets 95
Box Score
Rockets 110, Clippers 105
Box Score
Los Angeles
Rockets 100, Clippers 98
Box Score

The Big Picture: The Clippers will have a totally different mindset going into game four against the Rockets than they did against the Spurs. Instead of fighting for survival, they will be going in for the kill. The Clippers have dominated this series, save a few quarters in game two. Still, there is no room for complacency. The Clips have taken the advantage in the series by outworking the Rockets, energy seems to be one of the biggest factors in this series. That's why it has been great to see such huge contributions from the role players. Much of the playoff success has been won off the backs of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. When guys like Austin Rivers, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are able to take over games, as they have in this series, the Clippers can take on all comers. If the Clippers get another big win from the role guys it just might be enough to break Houston's spirit and all but put this series in the bag. However, any loss of focus could give the Rockets life. While losing this game wouldn't put the series in doubt, it's better to handle business as quickly as possible.This is the first time the Clippers have been up 2-1 in a second round series, they can't squander that opportunity.

The Antagonist: The Rockets have been up against the ropes in every game and, at many times, seem to be out on their feet. Sure, they pulled out a win in game 2 but they have been unable to sustain the type of energy it took to get that win. James Harden was outplayed on both ends of the floor by J.J. This series has made it incredibly clear, James Harden needs the refs to win. If he isn't getting his calls, he isn't in the game. Dwight Howard has been a problem at times but the Rockets always seem to go away from him as the game goes on. It feels like this is the Rockets second round learning experience, similar to when the Clippers were swept by the Spurs a few years ago. They will come back from this stronger but they don't feel like a live dog anymore. Tonight could be the last stand for the Rockets, there is no way they are coming back from a 3-1 deficit against this Clippers squad.

The Subplots:

  • Spencer Hawes. The much-maligned big man rose from the dead on Friday night to play 11 solid minutes. He ended the night with a +20 plus/minus rating, the third highest on the team behind DeAndre Jordan and Redick. If he can continue that level of play it will be huge for the Clips. Blake needs rest, with only one day between games the minutes will pile up. If Hawes can continue to spell Griffin and be a net positive, that will be a boon not only for this series, but also going forward in the playoffs. Next round could very well be a grudge match against the Grizzlies and we will need Blake at full strength if that goes down. Look for Hawes to appear in this game to get Blake some extra rest.
  • The Jet. Jason Terry was ejected from Friday game after hit Blake in the back with a cheap shot. There were more than a few who speculated the Jet would be suspended for game 4. Yesterday the league office added a flagrant 1 to the technical that had him ejected. But Terry will be available to start tonight. That's a big break for the Rockets as they are already missing starting point guard Patrick Beverly.
  • Tension. Jason Terry's cheap shot of Griffin was a sign of the growing tension between the two teams. Matt Barnes was fined $50,000 for an incident involving James' Harden's mom, the hard fouls are beginning to pile up on both sides, Austin Rivers is mocking Harden's celebration move, the animosity between then teams is palpable. There is a chance the tempers might boil over tonight. Whichever team manages to keep the cooler head will likely come out the victor.
  • The Coach's Kid. Austin Rivers and his dad receive more than their fair share of criticism after the trade that made them the first father/son-coach/player tandem in NBA history. The younger Rivers quieted many critics with his game 4 performance in the Spurs series. The world couldn't stop talking about hos sensational performance in game 3 on Friday. He scored a career playoff-high 25 points and added 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. While we can't expect Austin to duplicate that performance, if he could even do half of that the Clippers would be in good shape - especially if he can continue to finish at a high percentage.Thanks to the play of Rivers, the Clippers actually have the better bench in this match-up.
  • Connections. As previously noted, there are no Rocket-Clipper player crossovers in this series, but a handful of hometown guys on opposite teams. DeAndre Jordan is a Houston native, drawing many of his family and friends to games in Texas. Trevor Ariza and James Harden are both from the LA area--Ariza attended Westchester HS and Harden went to Artesia. Former Clipper point guard and current assistant Sam Cassell was drafted by the Rockets and won two championships with them in 1994 and 1995. The Rockets and the Clippers both once called San Diego home, the Rockets from 1967-1971 and the Clippers from 1978-1984.