The Clippers had a 13 point lead in the third quarter, but the Rockets battled back for the win behind big nights from James Harden (32 points and seven assists) and Dwight Howard (24 points and 16 rebounds). Blake Griffin had a big night of his own, tallying 34 points and 15 rebounds, but 26 of those points came in the first half. DeAndre Jordan chipped in impressively, providing 16 points while shooting 6-6 from the field and an astounding 4-6 from the line.
For as well as DJ played, he only totaled 25 minutes in the game because of foul trouble. He got his second foul at the 9:30 mark of the first quarter and sat out the remainder of the first half. DeAndre made his presence known while he was in the ball game, manning up against Dwight Howard and making every shot he had a look at. But when he had to sit and Glen Davis entered, Howard had his way in the paint. Baby had no shot of defending any of the alleyoop passes thrown Howard's way.
With DJ out for almost the entire first half, it would've been ideal for Blake to go the whole 24--but sadly, he is only a human and had to get a little of that "rest" stuff. That left the Clippers with Big Baby and Hedo Turkoglu to hold down the fort up front, which bode well for the Rockets. The Clippers struggled through the first quarter, and headed into the second down 24-35.
The Clippers assembled a beautiful second quarter, with the spark provided by none other than two-time CBA MVP Lester Hudson. Hudson hopped off the bench and played some defense, made some good passes, and hit some open shots. In his 10 and a half minutes, he provided five points, two assists and a steal. Well, he also had four fouls, but more on that later.
Blake Griffin's first quarter tear continued into the second, and he ended up shooting 11-14 in the half and the team hit 76% of shots in the quarter. The Clippers led at halftime, 65-56.
But a funny thing happened at halftime. In TNT's studio, Shaq tripped and fell, causing what I can only imagine was an immeasurable tectonic shift that caused a sensation in the Clippers players inner ear, resulting in an eerie lack of focus.
Or, the guys have been playing out of their minds lately and got tired. But, maybe the Shaq thing?
The Rockets came out in the second half with renewed energy, swarming the Clippers defensively and forcing turnovers to crank their offense up. There were some strange occurrences in that third quarter, namely an Ekpe Udoh appearance that lasted all of two seconds, resulting in two intentional fouls--proving once and for all that even Spencer Hawes fouls aren't welcome in these parts. Is Hawes that deep in the dog house? Are they giving up on him and waiting until next season to figure him out?
Behind hot shooting from Harden and Trevor Ariza, who finished the game with 15 points, the Rockets took a two-point lead with them into the fourth quarter.
Just enough seconds ticked by at the start of the fourth quarter (four seconds, in fact) for Austin Rivers to pick up a third personal foul before the shot and game clocks in the arena stopped working. Ostensibly, this situation benefitted the Clippers with some extra rest for Griffin, but after the approximately five-minute break, the Clippers continued to struggle to stop the Rockets.
Some uncharacteristic and certainly untimely turnovers plagued the Clippers in the final period, and the Rockets simply out-hustled the Clippers on defense and on the boards. Houston played some scrappy yet solid ball with their season essentially on the line, but they saw the benefit of some very odd situations.
The Clippers were called for 40 personal fouls over the course of the game, and no Clipper that saw action had less than three (except for Udoh, who had two, but as previously noted, only played two seconds). As a result, the Rockets shot a playoff franchise record 64 free throws, and made 42. On the flip side, the Clippers saw the line only 32 times.
Fouls aside, there was something very strange and slightly unnerving about the last few minutes of the game--like an elephant seriously contemplating a boob job. When the Clippers hustled to a loose ball, resulting in jump ball between Griffin and Harden, Griffin won the tip but put it straight into the hands of Terrance Jones, who slammed it home. When the Rockets missed a jumpshot, the ball fell to the floor and bounced twice before any Clipper even got near it. Austin Rivers had another Austin Rivers (TM) turnover at a critical juncture, and Matt Barnes shot a nothing-but-net three pointer with--oop--his toe on the line.
But despite the Clippers being shorthanded, the huge foul discrepancy, and some Shaqtin' a foolishness afoot, they still found themselves in a position to possibly win the game in the waning minutes. That's what's so frustrating about this loss. Of course you're happy to take the 1-1 split back to Los Angeles, but it almost--barely, not quite--could have been 2-0. The Clippers had a lot to overcome to get this win, and I don't blame them for falling short tonight. The Rockets played harder and smarter when it mattered, and we've got ourselves a series, folks.