Outside of a brief cold spell to start the game, LA had no difficulty scoring against a lackluster Houston defense, smashing the James Harden-less Rockets 133-113. A 17-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters gave the Clippers the necessary cushion to blow the game open as they held the lead throughout the second half.
LA got contributions throughout the roster, while Houston’s lack of depth was readily apparent. Montrezl Harrell led all scorers with a career-high 30 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including an astounding 14-of-15 from the foul line. He feasted on the Rockets backup bigs — namely, Isaiah Hartenstein, with Nene still nursing a calf injury. (Nene has been out so long, I forgot to include him on the injury report.) Harrell even had his way with Clint Capela, using his physicality to overwhelm the Swiss center.
Harrell’s finest move may have been a coast-to-coast finish after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won the ball on defense, aided by some expert coaching from Patrick Beverley on the bench.
Lou Williams got the team rolling in the opening period, scoring 19 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc. After a slow start to the season, it was refreshing to see the return of Sweet Lou, the microwave scorer. His 19 points matched a season-high for points by a reserve in one half.
Williams passed the baton off to Milos Teodosic, who saw his first action of the season. Teodosic was the primary beneficiary of Luc Mbah a Moute’s absence, earning minutes at backup point guard while Gilgeous-Alexander moved up to the 3. Teo was marvelous in his season debut, showing the passing versatility that made him such a coveted free agent coming over from Europe. He led LA with 5 assists and chipped in 8 points and 6 rebounds as well.
Milos fakes out Melo with this beautiful no-look pass. pic.twitter.com/6DZSgKIfmF— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) October 27, 2018
Teodosic even acquitted himself well on defense, as he and SGA switched off on guarding Chris Paul when he was in the game. Clamp City was in full effect on Paul, who had a miserable first game back from suspension. He was minus-26 in 34 minutes, the worst differential of any player, and uncharacteristically committed 5 turnovers. Paul was never able to find a rhythm against the pressure of Patrick Beverley and the length of Gilgeous-Alexander, who had a fine defensive game while being relieved of some of his offensive responsibilities. Even though Paul started to find open shooters in the second quarter, he couldn’t generate his own offense, something the Rockets desperately needed without their superstar Harden on the floor.
Houston’s other perimeter star, former Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, was also unable to get going on offense. The normally reliable rocket launcher was 3-of-14 from the field, including 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. If it weren’t for the hot shooting of Carmelo Anthony and Gerald Green (seriously, this wing rotation is bonkers), the Clippers would have run away with the game in the first 24 minutes.
Nevertheless, as Houston bumbled its way on offense, its defense was even more hapless. The team was lost on basic pick-and-roll coverages, leading to easy paths to the hoop. The once-reliable switching defense led to a series of mismatches in the post that Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari were all too happy to exploit, either by scoring, or by getting deep position and finding cutters in the lane.
(Fun fact from the broadcast: Harris and Gallo had 15 and 16 points, respectively, ending a 3-game streak of each of them scoring 20 or more. The last Clipper forward tandem to score 20 points each in three consecutive games was Zach Randolph and Al Thornton.)
The Houston defense came particularly undone in the aforementioned run, when the Clippers scored on eight out of 12 possessions while the Rockets put a collective goose egg. The run was punctuated by LA’s point guard of the future stealing the ball from Paul and going up for a two-handed dunk.
Even Avery Bradley managed to be productive on offense, scoring a season-high 14 points. The margin of victory was so large that Doc Rivers was able to empty the bench, allowing rookie Jerome Robinson to see his first NBA action and score his first basket.
With the win, LA has now won three games over teams missing an All-Star guard. Although they have certainly benefited from a bit of health luck, the Clippers have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them. As long as they do that, they’ll continue to look the part of a potential playoff team.