The Houston Rockets defied convention at the trade deadline when they dealt away Clint Capela for Robert Covington, electing to permanently start a lineup without a traditional center. They’ve had substantial success since then, but the Clippers presented the toughest challenge to date: A team replete with big, physical wings to counter the Pocket Rockets.
As it turned out, the Clippers never needed to bust out their small lineup to dominate Houston. They simply bullied them with old-school bigs, controlling the paint and pretty much every area of the floor en route to a 120-105 win. The Clippers have now won six games in a row and are undefeated when their full roster is healthy.
Ivica Zubac had his best performance of the season, routinely rolling to the basket for uncontested dunks. Even when the Rockets had a man on him, his size was insufficient to provide any resistance for Zubac at the rim. Zubac had a season-high with 14 points in the first half, and his total of 17 points for the game was also a season-high. He was perfect from the field (6-of-6) and added 12 rebounds.
Montrezl Harrell was equally overpowering in his minutes. LA’s backup center had a mismatch no matter who was guarding him, and Harrell doesn’t even need a smaller defender to force his way to the basket. Harrell only made five field goals, but he earned 10 trips to the free throw line for 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite the commanding offensive performances, the Clippers won this game on the defensive end. Houston has the second-best offensive rating in the league, utilizing the spacing created by their small lineup to beat teams in the paint and beyond the arc. But against the Clippers, the Rockets were unable to find any space. The wing trio of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Marcus Morris Sr. effectively cordoned off the paint, and Zubac and Harrell met any strays who managed to make their way in.
That meant Houston had to take a high volume of contested jumpers, and though the Rockets are bigger fans of the 3-pointer than most, this was not their night from distance. LA forced Houston into 2-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc in the first quarter as the Clippers built a 10-point lead. The Rockets wouldn’t make another three until less than two minutes were left in the third, when the Clippers were already up 25.
LA shut down everything that had been working for Houston in previous games. Russell Westbrook was rendered ineffective at the basket, and James Harden couldn’t get any clean looks. The Rockets outrebounded the Clippers on the offensive glass, in large part due to Westbrook’s seven offensive boards, but that was only there were so many opportunities with all of Houston’s missed shots.
The Clippers got the ball moving early and got out in transition; when the offense stalled in the second half, their defensive principles held, keeping the Rockets from ever getting back. The Rockets took their first and last lead of the game at 4-2, but were down double digits by the end of the first period and never got any closer.
After three back-and-forth games (all fairly chippy affairs), the Clippers were in control for the entire 48 minutes, showcasing their edge when they have their full team available. Six players scored in double figures, led by Leonard’s 25. Through three quarters, the Clippers shot 45.2% from the field while the Rockets shot 30.1%. The final margin of 15 undersells just how dominant LA was.
The Clippers solidified their hold on second place in the Western Conference with the win and face the no. 1 seed next, when the host the Lakers Sunday.