This was just a fun game from start to finish. The tension from Chris Paul’s return underlined the whole night, and while he was applauded after introductions and the video tribute the Clippers showed, the rest of the game was icy. The Rockets led for much of the first half, sometimes by double digits, before the Clippers came back in the mid 2nd quarter. While Lou Williams and Blake Griffin did their thing, the standout from the first half was Wes Johnson, who had a massive dunk in transition, soared for several rebounds, and absolutely snuffed out two Clint Capela dunk attempts. The Clippers led by three going into halftime, and were playing better than the Rockets, but needed to tighten up defensively and cut down on turnovers.
The second half got wild. Trevor Ariza and Chris Paul were jawing at Blake Griffin for most of it, and there were several near incidents as the game drew to a close. The Clippers pulled ahead by double digits on the strength of Blake’s work in the post and Lou’s shotmaking, and the Rockets were clearly getting frustrated. Pat Beverley and Austin Rivers kept up a steady stream of taunts from the sideline, not helping anyone calm down. Then, after Blake Griffin got an and-one with a few minutes left in the 4th, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni started furiously swearing at Blake, who gave D’Antoni a piece of his own mind. The closing minutes of the game were less basketball game than argument/fight, and it all culminated with both Griffin and Ariza getting tossed. Neither team shook hands with the other, and Gerald Green was yelling at various Clippers as they left the court.
Within minutes of the game ending, reports started coming out of a fight happening in the Rockets locker room, supposedly between Paul and the injured James Harden. Shortly after, however, conflicting reports appeared that several Rockets players tried to get into the Clippers’ locker room to “speak” with Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin. Police were called, Twitter exploded, and the basketball game was largely forgotten.
That basketball game, however, was a summary of everything that has made the Clippers such a fantastic team to watch and support for most of this season. They got down early to a very good team, but refused to quit, fighting back and taking the lead. Whenever the Rockets made a run, the Clippers had a response. While Blake got a little heated, no other Clipper player on the court was super emotional, while the Rockets got in their own heads and started forcing up shots. The Clippers tightened up on defense when they had to, kept running their offense, and refused to get dirty. They are a calm, collected team, and went about their business to win this game.
· Chris Paul Contained in Return: Paul was torching the Clippers in the first few minutes of the game—the Rockets had 17 points in the first four—but was largely held silent for the rest of the contest. He had 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists, which is a good but not great night for him. The Clippers forced the ball out of his hands, and Jawun Evans and Tyrone Wallace both did a good job sliding over screens to keep a body on him. The only person who was unable to deal with Paul was poor Milos, but Doc quickly got him off Chris in the last minuets of the 4th to prevent any comeback.
· Lou Keeps Rolling: In a game featuring Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Lou Williams was the best player, scoring 31 points on 19 shots, and dishing out 9 assists to 1 turnover. The Rockets could not stop him from going wherever he wanted all night, and Trevor Ariza had to resort to face-guarding him to prevent him from getting the ball. His outside shot is falling, he’s making the correct decision with the basketball 95% of the time, and he hits shots that almost nobody else in the NBA would even attempt. He’s a worthy All Star, and momentum for his selection is picking up. He thoroughly deserves it.
· Tyrone Wallace is Great: Wallace made some heady basketball plays tonight, and it’s clear that his basketball IQ on both sides of the ball is outstanding. He knows exactly where and when to help and defense, and his length and athleticism makes him a dangerous player in the passing lanes. On offense, he is a terrific cutter, and plays off the Clippers’ best players very well. He also demonstrated some attacks off the dribble tonight, and repeatedly finished strong in traffic. He’s a keeper.
- Clippers Make 7th Seed: With their win tonight, the Clippers now have a record of 22-21, tied with the Nuggets and Trailblazers, but are seeded ahead of them due to tiebreakers. That puts them as the 7th seed in the Western Conference, with a theoretical playoff matchup against the... Houston Rockets!! They are still just one loss back of the 5th seed, and are on an absolute roll right now.
The after-the-game hilarity is perhaps the funniest NBA story of the past decade, and has created some truly wonderful tweets and memes. Go check them out!
Houston Rockets’ players James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green pushed into Clippers locker room post-game looking to confront Austin Rivers, league sources tell ESPN. Security escorted Rockets out before anything turned physical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2018
Rockets players were clamoring for Blake Griffin too, league sources said. Chris Paul also entered with other Rockers players through a backstory that connects team dressing rooms. https://t.co/BRgyHe1WgL— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2018
Sources: As the four Rockets marched through the back hallway into the Clippers locker room, center Clint Capela knocked on the front door of Clippers entrance. Someone opened door, saw him standing there -- and shut it on him.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 16, 2018