I was going to do a more traditional summary, but it didn’t really seem necessary for this one. The Clippers were outplayed in every facet of the game tonight, from start to finish, and that is very evident by the box score. James Harden and Chris Paul got wherever they wanted on the court, whenever they wanted to, Clint Capela dominated the paint on both ends, and the Clippers just looked generally flummoxed and underprepared.
The Clippers started off the game ok, but some really bad turnovers got the Rockets out to a lead, which they never looked back from. The Clippers mostly played the Rockets to a standstill in the 2nd quarter, but it never really seemed like they were going to make a run, as they were never able to get stops. Everything came unplugged in the 3rd quarter, as Harden went off, and the Clippers missed the open shots that could have kept them at least attached. The 4th quarter was basically extended garbage time, with the Clippers’ youngsters getting some run. Even that didn’t go great, as only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seemed able to make an impression on either end. The game couldn’t end soon enough, and the Clippers lost 135-103.
- Clippers unprepared for Rockets’ switching: Possibly the weirdest thing about this game was how bad the Clippers looked against the Rockets’ defense. While the Rockets have one of the best defensive ratings in the NBA since the All Star Break, the Clippers just didn’t seem to come into the game with any plan of how to attack it. The Rockets switch everything, which completely stumped the Clippers. Only Shai and Gallinari were able to create any offense for themselves among the starters, while Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were smothered off the bench. The Clippers had tons of awful turnovers where they made passes straight into the arms of waiting Rockets’ defenders without even any defensive pressure. They’re lucky they made it to 100 points.
- Capela dominates inside: Clint Capela dominated the paint, putting together a 24 point, 15 rebound game with the greatest of ease. He got boards over the heads of both Zubac and Harrell, contested the Clippers’ shots at the rim, and had numerous dunks courtesy of Paul and Harden. Capela looked like the best big man on the court by a mile, and considering that the Rockets also have superior guard play with Harden and Paul… well, that’s the game right there. He’s just too big and athletic for Trez inside, and while Zu can match him size-wise, he was picked apart in the pick and roll by the Rockets’ guards. This is a really rough matchup for the Clippers’ big men, who have been so important to the team down the stretch. Still, they need to be (much) better if the Clippers are to have any shot against the Rockets in a playoff series.
- Ineffective defense on Harden: The Clippers seemed to experiment with the defense pioneered by the Milwaukee Bucks, which is to shade James Harden extremely hard to his right hand, and play a bit behind him to remove the threat of his stepback three. This did limit Harden somewhat from deep (he went 3-7, which is good, but with much lower attempts than usual), but this just allowed him a free reign to drive to the basket, where he finished time and again, or collected fouls on overeager defenders. Whatever the Clippers were trying to do against him, it did not work. And considering that the Rockets are the most likely matchup the Clippers will face in the playoffs, they need to figure that out.
- Don MacLean earns Twitter ire: Clippers’ broadcaster Don MacLean received a lot of negative feedback on Twitter tonight after commenting negatively on James Harden and his style of play. He tried to couch the criticism in terms of his personal preference, but it was a bad look on a night that Harden dominated and the Clippers were getting blown out.
In some ways, there’s not too much to takeaway from this one. The Clippers were cold and had an off night, while the Rockets were focused and on fire. And Pat Beverley, the heart and soul of the Clippers, was out. But the Rockets are clearly the more talented team, and while the Clippers have some strong defenders to throw at Harden, it’s a bad matchup for them. If at all possible, the Clippers should avoid the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.