Harden accounted for 46% of the Rockets’ points in the low-scoring affair. The Clippers gave it a good run despite the offense once again stalling for most of the night. Houston was able to pull away late in the fourth.
Harden compiled 17 of his 47 in the fourth quarter while finishing 12-26 from the field. LAC shot just 38% from the field in the defeat, and Kawhi Leonard was the only starter to finish in double figures. Kawhi scored 26 points, while no other starter scored more than Moe Harkless’ 9.
The Rockets just just 38% from the field themselves, but they also converted 22 free throws (on 27 attempts) compared to just 7 (on 14 attempts) for the Clippers. Houston shot about twice as many free throws as Los Angeles in what was a largely clunky offensive affair for both sides. Lou Williams led all reserves with 20 points, while JaMychal Green finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. It was a frustrating night for Montrezl Harrell, who mustered just 4 points on 2-12 shooting 37 minutes against his former team.
Houston also got 12 points and 20 rebounds from Clint Capela, who left the game late in the fourth after taking an inadvertent blow from Green. Russell Westbrook, who incredibly picked up 4 fouls in the first quarter alone, scored 17 points on awful 6-20 shooting.
Houston finished the game on a 16-4 run after a 4-point play from Kawhi Leonard put the Clips ahead 84-80 with just under 7 minutes to play. Leonard wound up logging nearly 40 minutes in the game, which is a pretty clear sign that he won’t be in the lineup tomorrow night when the Clippers take on the Pelicans. Kawhi finished 10-24 from the floor while also chiming in with 12 rebounds and 7 assists.
The Clippers got off to yet another ragged start. They were outscored 31-15 in the first 12 minutes while shooting just 6-25 from the floor and 2-9 from downtown. LAC’s missed threes were open looks for the most part, they just weren’t falling. The Clippers also made just 1 of 4 free throws.
James Harden got off to a hot start, which was fortunate for Houston considering Westbrook’s foul trouble. Harden bagged 14 points on 5-9 shooting in the first, including 3-4 from 3-point range.
Running the offense through Ivica Zubac helped ignite a surge early in the third for LAC. The Clippers began the third on a 15-6 run, which prompted a timeout from Mike D’Antoni. Zubac’s assist numbers have been non-existent over the course of his career, but he was an effective facilitator early in the period. The ability to pass quickly as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations is rare among lumbering bigs like Zu, but he has looked far more capable in that regard to begin the new campaign.
This was a weird game minutes-wise for the Clippers. In addition to nearly 41 from Kawhi, Lou Williams also played 40 and Harrell played 38 and never hit the bench after the 7:43 mark of the third quarter.
Despite another sketchy offensive effort for most of the night the Clippers had plenty of chances to win the game in the final period. Stopping Harden was a difficult task, and it’s fair to wonder whether that had anything to do with the fact that most of the guys on the floor at the end of the game had logged so many minutes by then.
Doc Rivers was ejected late in the fourth after voicing his opinions about the apparent lack of calls in the Clippers’ favor. Patrick Beverley fouled out in just 27 largely ineffective minutes, and LAC had to watch Harden shoot more free throws (17) than their entire team (14). Former Clipper great Austin Rivers, who cheered on his own father’s ejection, mustered just 7 points on 3-12 shooting in 34 minutes off the bench.
The Clippers showed good resilience after falling behind by 16 points after the first, and Doc’s threat to turn this car right around and head home seemed to help the team’s energy level in the second quarter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Fortunately, there are 71 games left before the playoffs. Something tells me the Clips will be juuuuust fine.
We’ll see how the team looks tomorrow night in New Orleans. Paul George is expected to make his season debut, so that should be fun. It’s also fair to assume Kawhi will sit out after logging heavy minutes tonight. LAC drops to 7-4 on the young season. The team will come back home to face Trae Young on the Hawks on Saturday in what will (hopefully) be the first game of the season featuring both Kawhi and PG-13.