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Final: Rockets 140, Clippers 116

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The shorthanded Clips made things interesting, but ultimately couldn’t overcome Houston’s offensive firepower.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A severely shorthanded Clippers squad was beaten 140-116 by the Houston Rockets on Friday night. James Harden notched his seventh triple-double of the season to lead the way with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for Houston, who also got a career night from backup big Montrezl Harrell. Harrell proved to be quite the handful for L.A. all night long as he finished with a career-high 29 points.

The Clippers, of course, were without both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The roster got even thinner after both Austin and Doc Rivers were quickly ejected early in the second quarter.

Things looked like they were going to get out of hand early, but the cast of misfits led by Raymond Felton and DeAndre Jordan actually made this one interesting after three quarters. L.A. surged to 41 points in the third period alone and trailed by just 10 going into the fourth after going behind by as many as 25 earlier in the game.

The Rockets finally decided to put their foot on the gas once the fourth rolled around, though, and the Clips’ skeleton crew eventually ran out of gas. Despite the result, it was encouraging to see the Clippers playing with exuberance and energy in spite of the stark talent discrepancy.

Felton led the Clips with a season-high 26 points, 18 of which came in the third. Jordan compiled 20 points and 14 boards himself, while LAC also got some solid minutes out of little-used Alan Anderson. His numbers don’t jump off the page (10 points, 4/9 shooting), but he looked capable enough on both ends to potentially warrant some real rotation minutes once the full squad comes back healthy.

The defeat was L.A.’s fifth in a row and dropped them to 22-13 on the year. Houston improved to 25-10, three-and-a-half games ahead of the Clips for the No. 3 seed in the West.

As you would expect from a team without their two best players, the Clippers got off to a sluggish start offensively. LAC canned just three of their first 10 shots and Doc Rivers didn’t even wait five minutes before opting to bring Jamal Crawford into the ballgame.

Austin Rivers was oozing with confidence early and resuscitated the team’s offense almost single-handedly in the middle stages of the period. The coach’s son canned three of his first five shots from the floor, including a step-back three-pointer over Ryan Anderson that gave the Clippers an early 16-15 advantage.

James Harden was a one-man wrecking crew in the first 12 minutes. The Beard played the entire first 12 minutes and compiled 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. The Rockets went on a 22-6 run over the final six minutes of the frame to bust open a 37-23 lead after one.

Vengeful former Clipper Eric Gordon wasted no time in letting it fly once he entered the game. He knocked down each of his first three three-pointers as Houston jacked 12 of them as a team in the first alone.

Things got even worse for the road team to start the second quarter. The Rockets were playing with quite a bit more energy than LAC was, and the Clips continually turned the ball over and failed to secure defensive rebounds. The Rockets’ bench had 19 of their first 47 points overall, led by Gordon, Sam Dekker and noted Clippers arch nemesis Corey Brewer.

The Clippers got called for a lane violation on a missed Eric Gordon free throw, if that gives you an idea of how things were going for them in this one.

To make matters even worse, Austin Rivers was immediately ejected about midway through the frame after making contact with official J.T. Orr. Rivers didn’t like a no-call after he drove to the rim, though it wasn’t clear if his contact with Orr was intentional. Doc didn’t take too kindly to the ejection, either, and got himself ejected after a subsequent timeout.

The contact between Austin and Orr was incredibly minimal, based on the look from this angle (via @DanWoikeSports):

Oh well. It’s a weak call, but Austin should know better than to do something like that to an official if that was his actual intention.

Following the fireworks, the Clips climbed back in a bit. They went on an 11-1 run to cut the margin to 12 at 62-50 after a Raymond Felton three. Houston pushed back a bit, though, and entered the break with a 74-57 advantage. The Rockets shot 60 percent from the floor over the first 24 minutes, which isn’t exactly ideal if you’re the Clippers.

Houston started to see some regression on that shooting percentage to start the third. They couldn’t buy a bucket over the first several minutes and the Clips started to inch closer once again.

Felton, who started the half in place of Austin, started to do some cooking offensively and established a new season-high with 17 points on back-to-back triples halfway through the frame. Suddenly, we had an 11-point game before Mike D’Antoni was forced to take a timeout. Yet another F3lton cut it to 92-82. Yes, that was 13 points in a span of seven minutes for the Clips’ new Point God.

Fortunately for L.A., Ryan Anderson couldn’t hit water if he threw a rock in the ocean. Houston’s new starting power forward built a house of bricks from three-point range all night long, and connected on just one of his first eight triple tries. Missed open looks were helping keep the Clips relatively close.

After a timeout, interim head coach Mike Woodson clearly told his team to take advantage of DeAndre Jordan’s monster height advantage over Montrezl Harrell. The Clippers went to the big man on several consecutive possessions and cut the deficit down to single digits.

A three-point play from Harden put Lawler’s Law into effect at 102-91 with two minutes still to play in the third. Another F3LTON pushed the deficit to six and gave him 18 points in the quarter alone. Jordan scored 14 in the period and after three it was 108-98, Houston.

The Clippers managed to score 41 points in a quarter without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. To give you a further idea of how weird that period was, Mo Speights vioilently rejected a Harrell would-be dunk as time expired. Not bad!

CP3, er, Felton, got a rest to start the fourth, and things started to hit the skids again for LAC. A few consecutive empty possessions coupled with the Rockets suddenly rediscovering their stroke pushed Houston’s lead back up to 11 at 115-104.

Harrell’s energy on offense was proving problematic. An alley-oop plus-the-foul gave him a career-high 21 points in his first 23 minutes of action. Houston’s run prompted Woodson to bring Felton back with about nine minutes left.

The Clips missed six consecutive shots before an easy layup from Gordon on the other end capped an 11-0 Rockets run and re-established their 17-point cushion. Perhaps the worst news of all for LAC was that Houston managed this spurt with Harden sitting on the bench.

A tip-slam from Harrell followed by a triple on the break from Trevor Ariza pushed the run to 16-0 and slammed the proverbial door on the shorthanded Clippers.

The third quarter run was fun, and the final margin is not at all indicative of how this game went throughout. It was nice to see the Clippers play with some pluckiness despite being undermanned. They will lick their wounds and head to OKC to face Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on New Year’s Eve tomorrow night.

Hopefully CP3 will be back.