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Clippers Defeat Rockets 115-112 in Fun, Gritty Contest

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It was close down the stretch, but the Clippers got the job done.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers defeated the Rockets 115-112 at Staples Center Sunday night in the final game of Los Angeles’ season-opening three-game stint at home. Houston was without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who received a two-game suspension earlier in the day for his involvement in an on-the-court altercation with Laker Rajon Rondo Saturday night. Paul will return to the court on Friday when the Rockets host the Clippers in Houston for the franchises’ second match-up of the season.

Starting Lineups:

Los Angeles Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat

Houston Rockets: James Ennis, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, James Harden

First Half

It was clear very early on that Doc Rivers’ game plan for this contest was to constantly throw fresh legs at James Harden. Avery Bradley started off with the assignment. Harden is almost impossible to guard, due in part to his ball-handling skills, and due in equal part to his acting chops. A third of the way through the first quarter, Bradley successfully picked Harden’s pocket, but the master flopper acted his way to a foul call. The ridiculousness was not lost on Ralph Lawler - the voice of the Clippers - who exclaimed “Harden went down as if he was shot.” Oh me oh my.

Bradley was subbed out mid-way through the first quarter in favor of rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who did a surprisingly good job containing Harden, using his length to disrupt Harden’s line of sight,

Offensively, the Clippers moved the ball well, although sometimes not consistently, and were notably good at finding open cutters. Unselfish play and ball-movement is going to be the hallmark of this Clipper squad.

After one frame the Clippers lead was 29-24. Tobias Harris led all scorers with 8 points, including this pretty fade away:

James Harden was best for Houston, with 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.

The second quarter started with Shai, Lou Williams, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Scott and Montrezl Harrell on the floor for the Clippers.

Houston went on a mini run in the first five minutes to tie the game at 37. Multiple lead changes followed. The Clippers had a few instances where they appeared to stray from their offensive game plan, by running down the clock and settling for poor outside shots, but overall they looked pretty solid. They were most successful when they attacked the basket.

Defensively, there were some lapses, but the intensity was mostly there. They had some issues with defending in transition, allowing Harden to go coast to coast for easy buckets. They had better outcomes when they picked up Harden full-court, slowing him down and forcing the Rockets into half-court sets.

At the half the Clippers were clinging on to a one-point lead: 54-53.

STATS AT THE HALF:

The Clippers shot 46.3 % from the field and a dismal 10% from behind the arc.

The Rockets shot 39.2 % from the field and 30.4% from behind the arc.

The Rockets gave up 32 points in the paint to the Clippers, continuing a bad trend for the franchise.

Notable +/- stat lines: Avery Bradley (-11), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+12), Carmelo Anthony (-12).

Clippers’ Leaders:

  • Tobias Harris: 17 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist in just under 18 minutes.
  • Danillo Gallinari: 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists in just over 17 minutes
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 10 minutes
  • Lou Williams: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists in just under 11 minutes
  • Harrell: 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist in 7 minutes

Rockets’ Leaders:

  • James Harden: 17 points, rebounds, assists
  • Clint Capela: 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2assists
  • Ennis and Tucker added 6 points each.

Second Half

Doc started the second half with his first unit, but they just were not getting the job done. The offense was stuttering, and Bradley was trailing Harden (going over, as opposed to under screens), allowing him to penetrate too easily, resulting in floaters or easy lobs to Capela. The Clippers quickly found themselves down three, forcing Doc to call a time-out.

At the 3:39 mark Doc made some key substitutions, going with Shai, Luc, Lou, Montrezl and Danilo on the floor. This was, in my opinion, the night’s most successful line-up.

Mbah a Moute showed some offensive prowess, hitting a 3-pointer, scoring off a drive and hitting a pull-up jumper. His defense, as always, was excellent.

Gallinari was absolutely fantastic in the frame, finishing with 13 points. He was aggressive and successful scoring in a variety of ways. He continues to shoot the long ball well this season, but was equally efficient going to the basket, posting up, and scoring off the dribble. He appears passionate and invested, and looks like he wants to ball this year, quite unlike last year.

Montrezl Harrell was also a boon in the third, contributing 5 points and 2 blocks in his limited minutes. The spark Harrell brings to the floor night after night is just invaluable.

The Clippers ended the third on a 19-6 run with this spirited lineup and led the Rockets by nine after three, 93-84.

Los Angeles extended their lead to 11 early on in the final quarter, prompting Houston to take a minute to think things over.

After the time-out, the Rockets went on a mini-run to cut the Clippers lead to four. Harden and Tobias exchanged threes. This one was going to go down to the wire.

In a fun exchange just under the two-minute mark, Williams had the ball knocked away from him when driving to the basket, but recovered to trail Harden down the floor and block him in transition. It was fantastic.

This defensive highlight then turned into a score for the Clippers on the other end, with a decisive dunk from Harrell.

Interestingly, Doc had three reserves on the floor during this critical point late in the game, including Gilgeous-Alexander. The young rookie is getting quality minutes and exhibiting a lot of poise in his debut NBA season.

With 38 seconds left in regulation, Harrell committed an ill-advised foul on Harden, resulting in a 4-point play. One possession lead. Houston recovered the ball on the next possession and immediately called a time-out. With two seconds left on the clock, the Rockets ran its final play. Predictably, the ball went to Harden, but Gallinari’s big body was just close enough to throw him off balance. He could not covert on his final three-point attempt.

The Clippers pulled off the win: 115-112.

FINAL STATS

Tobias Harris: 23 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist

Danilo Gallinari: 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Montrezl Harrell: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal

Lou Williams: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists

The Clippers finished with a field-goal percentage of 47.2%, and shot 20% from three-point land.

The Clippers were PERFECT from the line: 26 for 26.

James Harden (31 points), Clint Capela (23 points) and Eric Gordon (21 points) were the top players for the Rockets.

Takeaways

Harris is ridiculously good. That is all.

Gilgeous-Alexander did not come into the league with a reputation for defense, but has looked promising so far this season. He did an excellent job guarding Harden, and should only get better with time. Shai’s offense continues to impress as well. His +/- rating for the night? Oh, just 21+.

Doc has many options and player combinations to choose from this season. He is doing a fantastic job so far of managing minutes and getting his key players appropriate rest. Not an easy task dealing with so much depth, so kudos to him.

I am ridiculously here for this Clippers squad! So. Fun. To. Watch.

NEXT GAME:

Clippers face the Pelicans in New Orleans on Tuesday, October 23, 018 at 5:00 p.m.