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Film Room: Houston vs Blake Griffin in Game 2

After dominating the first half against the Houston Rockets in Game 2, Blake Griffin went on to struggle in the second half and the Clippers ultimately lost a game that looked like it'd go their way. What changed from half to half?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight game, a star player in this series started off really well only to become a bystander as the game wore on and he wore down. In Game 1, it happened to James Harden of the Houston Rockets. He started off well in the first quarter, despite turnovers, but didn’t carry it through the rest of the game as the Clippers adjusted. It happened against last night. This time, it was Blake Griffin who tailed off while the Clippers stumbled away their lead in both the game and the series. As the series sits deadlocked at one win apiece, it’s time to look back to last night’s contest and see how the Rockets adjusted to Griffin as the game went along.

Through two games against the Houston Rockets, it seems safe to say that Blake Griffin has been the single best player in the series and it might not even be particularly close. In the two games, Griffin is averaging 30.0 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 8.5 assists on 52.4 percent shooting from the field and 76.2 percent shooting from the line. In Game 2, he got off to a blazing start before falling victim to the Rockets defense in the second half. Looking back at the footage was interesting and it showcased some things Houston might try to employ throughout the rest of the series.

The play below is where Blake Griffin simply can torture any team in any game in any series. If he gets the ball and a full head of steam going forward, he’s almost impossible to stop in the open court. On this play, he gets the ball near midcourt and makes Terrence Jones pay for trying to attack him so aggressively defensively. The right play here for Jones is to funnel Griffin towards Dwight Howard, but he can’t do it. Griffin just is simply too strong for Jones.

Griffin bullies Jones to the restricted area and goes up for the contested shot but ultimately ends up getting fouled by Terrence. There’s simply nothing Jones can do here. Griffin is bigger, stronger, faster, and better than him in every single facet of the game. It’s a no contest and Griffin shows why. For Houston to be successful in the next few games, limiting the transition opportunities that Griffin gets will do wonders. Griffin loves to push the ball as a secondary ball-handler so plays like this can haunt the Rockets if they’re not careful.

Here we go again. After a fantastic defensive play by DeAndre Jordan to deny the lob pass from Terrence Jones to Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers collects the ball, pushes it up in transition, and locates Blake Griffin slicing in at the three-point line. Part of the reason this play works is because Howard is trailing the play and can’t contest Griffin’s shot. Another reason is because Jones just absolutely refuses to turn around and locate anyone. To Jones’ credit, he’s sort of running with Jordan, who is calling for the lob attempt, and can’t just leave him. This lets Griffin waltz right through the paint and dunk on the back of Jones’ head.

If you’re the Houston Rockets and you want to have sustained success in this series, you cannot let Blake Griffin get these sort of shots. Not only are they high percentage shots that he’s going to make, they’re also morale killers that silence your home crowd and give life to the crowd in Los Angeles. Clippers announcer Mike Smith talks all the time about how sometimes a dunk is worth more than two points. In instances like this, when Houston forgets to mark Griffin in the open floor, it shows you why he’s one of the most ferocious finishers in the league.

Yet again, we see the Rockets just lackadaisically get back in transition here. Griffin gets the ball after a rebound, pushes it in transition, and sees nothing but space and opportunity as Houston decides to not pressure him even a little bit. This play is all on Josh Smith. Smith is basically just shadowing Griffin down the court the entire time but refuses to even get within about four feet of him. Jordan comes running down the court, sets a rub screen on Smith, and Griffin does a slight stepback jumper that gives the Clippers a lead they should have never had.

It’s starting to sound like a broken round and I’m sure it’s starting to get annoying but Houston just let Blake Griffin do whatever he wanted in the first half. Sure, he hit some tough post hooks but a lot of stuff came with him just handling the ball in the open court and walking right into offensive hot spots. Essentially, Houston was dumb and let the best player on the floor beat them in the first half because they were lazy and uninterested in doing anything remotely close to impeding him. However, after halftime, they changed some things and tried to attack him a little differently.

One of the biggest things to mention with the difference between the first half and the second half is turnovers. A lot of Houston’s problems stemmed from the fact that they turned the ball over quite a bit in the first half and also took bad shots that led to bad effort on transition defense. In the first half, the Rockets turned the ball over 10 times and it resulted in 13 points for the Clippers. In the opening 24 minutes, the Clippers had 12 fast break points. In the second half, however, the Rockets turned the ball over just four times and it led to just two points. The Clippers had only 7 fast break points in the final 24 minutes.

On this play here, the Rockets attack Griffin a little differently than they did in the first half. Griffin gets the ball, brings it up the court, quickly probes for something, but passes it out to Jamal Crawford to run the offense once he sees the way Terrence Jones and Josh Smith are ready to stop him on a drive. Griffin posts up Jones at the right elbow, starts to push him back, but is quickly met by a double-team from Corey Brewer as Brewer’s man – which is Lester Hudson – cuts along the baseline. Griffin has to step out after the double-team and takes a bad long-two jumper instead of possibly passing to Glen Davis.

A lot of the problem in this play is lack of familiarity in personnel. As you can guess, Blake Griffin and Lester Hudson don’t play a lot together. They only played 8 minutes together during the regular season and, before Wednesday night, just 4 minutes in the playoffs. So we’re talking just 12 total minutes played together before Game 2. Hudson makes a poor decision to cut baseline which lets Brewer double-team Griffin. If Hudson stays in the corner, it makes a tougher double for Brewer since he’s only helping a simple pass away from a corner three. Griffin still could have passed to Davis since Smith briefly loses containment on him but it might not have led to anything more than a contested Davis jumper. This play could be chalked up to personnel issues for the most part, but Griffin also could have been more aggressive initially off the bounce.

This is actually excellent defense by Houston and this is when Houston really started to figure out how to stop Blake Griffin in this game. They initially front Griffin with Trevor Ariza on this play when the ball swings to Crawford, who is on the same side of the floor as Griffin and Ariza. Dwight Howard rotates over perfectly to stop any potential lob over the top of the front and it forces Griffin to reset where he’s standing on offense. They then front Griffin at the free throw line with Brewer, who does this after getting screened on the pick-and-roll. Griffin could have been more aggressive with his roll but any errant pass goes right to Howard most likely.

Crawford lobs it over Brewer, the defenses crashes onto Griffin, and Blake shoots a contested shot over the outstretched arm of Dwight Howard. This is actually a play that Blake should have been more unselfish on. The second he gets the ball from Crawford, he could have rotated it to Matt Barnes who was wide open in the corner for three after Harden lost sight of him and pinned down onto any potential lob for DeAndre Jordan. Instead, Griffin throws up a bad push shot and misses it. Next game, in the event of this defensive look, Griffin should kick it to Barnes in the corner for a much better shot than the one he got on this play.

Not only did Blake Griffin have trouble scoring in the second half, but he also had trouble with turnovers. He didn’t turn the ball over at all in the first half but did so three times in the second. The initial action on this play is a screen to free up a Rivers cut into the paint which in turn would free up Redick for a jumper on the wing if Redick’s defender overplayed the cut. Ariza and Terry defend this action well which allows them to stay in position of both Redick and Rivers. Griffin then dribbles to setup a little pick-and-roll action with Redick. Instead of picking, Redick cuts to the other side – which is the right move – and Terrence Jones pokes the ball away on the pass.

To compound the issue, Griffin hustles back on defense but then gives a little touch foul to Jones. Everything on this play was going well up until the turnover. Yes, the clock was winding down and all that but the Clippers still had a chance on this possession until Griffin picks up his dribble and tries to force the pass. Had he held onto the ball a second longer, Redick would have been free in the corner for a pass. Redick had momentarily lost Terry and the only thing that saved the Rockets was Jones getting his hand up. Griffin has to be more patient on this play and it could have resulted in a good look for the Clippers offense.

This is another one of Blake Griffin’s second half turnovers. The Clippers run their middle pick-and-roll between Crawford and Griffin. Crawford gives Griffin a good pass and Griffin accelerates to the paint but the Rockets do a good job of walling him off and getting their hands into the play defensively. Houston can thank Dwight Howard on this play. He not only stops the roll action from Griffin by going up vertically, but he also gets his right arm horizontal to stop the dump pass to DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers and Griffin really do nothing wrong here. This is just excellent stuff from Howard. The only alternative here is for Griffin to go up strong and try to finish over Howard but he didn’t go up with the explosiveness to finish.

There are a myriad of factors that could have gone into Blake Griffin’s play in the second half. It could have been because of the increased workload and he just got tired and worn down. It could have been because he was trying to get other guys involved. It also could have been because he picked up those two quick fouls to start the quarter and was hesitant from picking up other fouls by being aggressive offensively. The likely cause was Houston’s insistence of taking note of where he was on every play and not letting him get easy stuff. They met him higher up on the floor and forced him to dribble into multiple defenders rather than one-on-one.

The Clippers are going to need Blake Griffin to continue his excellent play if they want to advance to the next round, even if Chris Paul comes back. Griffin is the single biggest mismatch in this entire series and he’s shown that thus far through two games. Houston’s only way to stop him is to get him into early foul trouble or just swarm him once he has the ball. Both of those things happened in the second half of Game 2. Griffin is still an elite level talent and still capable of making Houston pay even when they send multiple defenders at him. However, he still has to make the right play at the right time. He did it all first half. The second half was a different story, but credit Houston for some adjustments. It will be interesting to see how both he and they play their game of chess in the next few games.