There are occurrences in this world that drive a person to their knees. Experiences more so than occurrences, I guess. Tonight, in Game 3 of a series that was tied at one win apiece, we got one of those experiences that just paralyzes you and numbs your senses. We’ve all experienced them before. Your first love, your first kiss, your first tax refund. But, tonight, we saw something even more glorious and profound. There have already been two instances during this playoff run that you could define as "The Game" for a certain offspring of coach Doc Rivers. It was on a whole ‘nother level tonight, though.
|Los Angeles Clippers
It’s really hard to sum up this game because so much happened in such a condensed amount of time. Chris Paul came back tonight and played admirably. He was the straw stiring the drink early on in this game as the Clippers offense hummed right along in the first quarter. Another Clipper came back tonight, as well. Spencer Hawes was dusted off the shelf, thrown into the game, and played Hawesome in the opening quarter. He made a jumper, threw a lob pass for a dunk, and contested multiple shots at the rim. The Clippers were off and running early.
Things were going well in the second quarter until the final 45 seconds or so. The Clippers had hacked Dwight Howard for a couple minutes just before that but Houston never really closed the gap due to that. Instead, the Rockets got three free throws from Terrence Jones, Chris Paul missed a wide open layup, Blake Griffin fumbled the ball out of bounds, and James Harden hit a jumper – after a travel went uncalled – that cut the lead down to just 7 at halftime.
Los Angeles got off to a lackadaisical start in the third quarter and allowed Houston to get within just five points after a quick little 9-2 run that cut the Clippers lead to 81-76. Then it happened. The greatest moment in the history of human civilization. Peak Playoff Austin Rivers. AR25 locked his guns and fired off his shots like the glorious display of basketball beauty that he is. Rivers helped spark a 23-0 run that spanned the final 3:30 of the third quarter and opening part of the fourth quarter. He scored 16 of the Clippers 23 points during that stretch.
The Clippers, due to this 23-0 run, were able to stretch the lead from 81-76 to 104-76 in the blink of an eye. It decided the game in very swift fashion and made sure that the Clippers would head into Game 4 with a series lead and all the momentum. It wasn’t pretty for the first two-and-a-half quarters but it quickly turned into an artistic masterpiece thanks to that unstoppable run. A game that seemingly hung in the balance was emphatically decided. The fourth quarter was merely a formality and the Clippers cruised to a 124-99 victory and 2-1 series lead.
This is in no way, shape, or form going to diminish anyone else’s performance. But Austin Rivers was the ultimate difference maker in this game. He was everywhere in the third quarter and scored 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting in just 6:01 of action during that frame. Rivers finished with 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting. His only three misses were from beyond the arc. He also had 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Doc Rivers took a ton of criticism for trading for his son but this is the third game in the playoffs that Austin has helped the Clippers win. If this team goes deeper in the playoffs, it’s appropriate to give Rivers – both of them – a ton of credit.
Blake Griffin had a bit of a rough night despite his 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists. He was blocked three times, got hacked quite a bit without a call in his favor, and turned the ball over 7 times. Credit the Houston Rockets for a lot of his turnovers. They blitzed him with multiple defenders at half-court and he didn’t adjust to it at all. He played way too fast at times but still was good in this game in other areas. This was the team’s tenth playoff game this year and this was Griffin’s ninth game of 20-10. He has a double-double in all ten games.
Chris Paul played solidly considering everything he was dealing with. He finished with 12 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals on 5-for-12 shooting. He went 2-for-6 from three and they came in a back-to-back stretch in the third quarter. In one of the game’s funniest moments, Paul went up to head coach Doc Rivers and told him it was okay to be a father right now as Austin went nuts in the third quarter. Paul made a difference. He might have been on one leg but Chris Paul on one leg is still a great player.
If there was a second game ball, it’d go to DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick in a joint effort. Jordan was great on the defensive end and helped the Clippers hold the back line against Houston’s relentless paint attack. The Rockets attempted 49 shots inside the paint but made just 21 of them. Yes, Houston got 16 offensive rebounds but Jordan was altering a lot of shots in there. He also had a game-high 15 rebounds. Redick, on the other hand, dominated the offensive end. He had 16 in the first half and 15 in the second half for a game-high, and career playoff-high, 31 points on 11-for-14 shooting. He was 5-for-6 from three. Redick also did a solid job guarding James Harden all night, as well. It’s what he does.
James Harden had a Rockets-high 25 points and 11 assists while Dwight Howard had 14 rebounds for them. But perhaps the most notable thing to come out of this game for the Houston Rockets was Jason Terry’s classless attempted bulldozing of Blake Griffin during the latter stages of the fourth quarter. You could argue that neither team should have had their starters in the game still but Terry’s actions were ridiculous and rightfully resulted in an ejection. We’ll see if the league suspends him but it was clearly unprofessional. Glen Davis had a fine worthy flop tonight, so that was fun. It resulted in two free throws and a foul on Dwight Howard, though. Maybe it paid off. He must have taken lessons from Corey Brewer.
In every series that teams go into Game 3 tied, you get a sense that the team who wins Game 3 will seize control and just cruise to victory afterwards. That’s not always the case. It didn’t happen last series as the San Antonio Spurs blew out the Clippers in Game 3. Supposedly, teams who win Game 3 of a 1-1 series go on to win it 76 percent of the time. You’ll take those odds but the odds are what you make of them. The Clippers cannot get complacent in Game 4. Houston is going to come out with their best punch of the series and try to wrestle back homecourt. It’s not a "must win" for the Clippers like it is for Houston most likely, but the Clippers might need to win this game in order to fully seize the series.
We’ll see how Chris Paul feels going into Game 4. It's likely that he’s a little sore right now but two good things came out of this game. First off, the team won. Secondly, they won in blowout fashion which limited Paul to just 23:08 of floor time. Every little bit of rest helps. It was clear how much Paul impacts the game when he’s in and it’ll be interesting to see how Houston tries to counteract the Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll going forward. It devastated Houston early in this game and then freed up other guys for open shots later on. For now, the Clippers are up 2-1 on the Rockets and we can give thanks at the altar of Austin Rivers for two of these wins. That kid has paid off. Especially since he was the top trend in the United States on Twitter tonight. And for a good reason.