The Los Angeles Clippers — partly out of necessity, partly to see if they could get a night off for a couple players — gave their available reserves plenty of run on Friday, and it paid off, as the Clippers beat the Houston Rockets 126-109 at Staples Center to wrap up another back-to-back this season.
With the news that Patrick Beverley broke his hand on Thursday and had surgery, he was out, and so was Rajon Rondo and Paul George as Ty Lue wanted to give them rest on the second of the back-to-back. The starting five was Kawhi Leonard, Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr. and Luke Kennard.
The teams started out pretty frisky, with the Clippers up in the opening minutes but the Rockets able to keep pace. After the first timeout in the 1st quarter, Houston pulled ahead, and finished the first stanza up by 10, 36-26.
DeMarcus Cousins came in the game to start the 2nd quarter, but it was rough sledding for the big man, as he racked up three separate turnovers in just over a minute. Still, he’s not played much for a long time, he needs some minutes to find some game shape.
The Clippers found a rally midway through the 2nd quarter, with Leonard hitting a 3-pointer, Jackson grabbing a steal and a 3 on the next play, and then Cousins hitting a 3 himself on the next Clippers possession. That rally helped push the Clips ahead of the Rockets, going from 14 points down to a 23-point lead, where they looked as though they had thoroughly blown the game open before the halftime pause.
LA led 67-46 at halftime, Jackson leading all scorers with 17 points, going 6-for-6 from the field, Leonard right behind with 15 through 24 minutes. The 41-6 run in the 2nd quarter was perhaps the Clippers’ best quarter of the season, their ease with which they flipped the game was truly impressive.
Despite the big lead, the Rockets tried to rally and hit several shots to open the 3rd quarter to make it a bit interesting. They made it an 11-2 run in the first 3:30 of the quarter.
Just as it looked like Houston would get all the way back in the game, the Clippers woke up when their led narrowed to seven points, and they put some more distance between themselves and the Rockets. In the end, a pretty shaggy quarter from the Clips ended with an 11-point lead, 94-83.
A few minutes into the 4th quarter, the Clips made it to 100...and while the Rockets kept to around 10 points down the stretch, a late flurry gave LA the edge and in the final few minutes Lue gave some time to the likes of Daniel Oturu and Malik Fitts to give them a few minutes of action, meaning the coach played every player who dressed on the night.
I don’t think this was a great Clippers performance aside from the stellar 2nd quarter and Jackson’s strong night (26 points, behind only Leonard’s rather quiet 31 in this game) but considering it was coming to wrap a back-to-back and the number of key players missing on the night, any swings and swoons can probably be forgiven.
The Clippers will be back in action Sunday against the Detroit Pistons, the Eastern Conference version of the Rockets. Does that mean another pretty comfortable win, or a bigger challenge? We’ll find out on Sunday.