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Los Angeles Clippers 106, Houston Rockets 96 – First Quarters Are Important

The Clippers proved, tonight, that every quarter in an NBA game matters, not just the fourth. The Rockets shot over 50% from the field and scored 28 points in the first frame, but still found themselves on the wrong side of an 18 point deficit. With the rest of the game only changing the lead by 8 points, the first quarter determined the outcome immediately. The Rockets now head back home to host All-Star weekend and have a week for James Harden (ankle, knee) and Toney Douglas (hip pointer) to heal up before their next game.

For Houston, there are some silver linings to this loss. Most notable was that Donatas Motiejunas played 15:45 and had the best +/- on the team (+9). “D-Mo” shot 5-8, including a finisher on an alley-oop and then a sweeping hook shot on the next possession. He grabbed 3 boards and had 2 assists to cap off a very nice evening for him. Whether playing in the D-League has helped prepare him for the NBA, or he’s simply this decent, it’s promising for Houston to see one of their rookies use minutes well. Will the back up big rotation seemingly in chaos, perhaps some help can come from within the team.

Another silver lining is that James Harden will be back. For about thirty minutes, he was listed as active and starting for Houston, but this was rescinded. He’s day-to-day as it is, and is seemingly not suffering too much from his ankle roll in Golden State. The Rockets clearly suffered without their star, and seem likely to have him back by the time Oklahoma City comes to town next Wednesday. The Rockets also played moderately well against one of the best teams in the league, with players like Parsons stepping up.

Parsons led the team in scoring: 17 points on 16 shots. His 6 rebounds and 4 assists helped his case, though 5 turnovers is unusually high for him. Parsons looked solid on the floor, barring a flagrant foul against his old friend Blake Griffin. Once again, he showed that he’s happy to fill in whatever role is needed, and tonight it was scoring. He’s not used to having as many touches as he did tonight, but managed to score acceptably despite missing all four of his three pointers.

The Rockets at large struggled from three point land, hitting a miserable 20.8% (5-24) (The Clippers had no such trouble, and ended the night with very nice 40.6%.) Delfino especially struggled, hitting only one of his five attempts from downtown, and going 1-6 overall. His best contribution was a couple assists, and some average defense. In a game where everyone had to show up and score to make up for the lack of Harden and Douglas and their scoring, Delfino failed to bring any.

Lin, on the other hand, was aggressive the whole night, even when getting kicked by Ryan Hollins. Lin had 14 points on 12 shots and hit 5 of 6 free throws. While his 4 turnovers were a bit much, he also dished 7 dimes. Lin continues to be more turnover prone and less efficient than the Rockets need him to be, but he’s been more active and aggressive with the ball. It may not always be pretty, but he’s still trying to make strides in the right direction.

Patterson and Asik were the only starters to knock down more than half their shots, and both players looked decent. Patterson heated up late and hit 6-11 shots to go with a 6 rebounds, which is an improvement for him on the boards. His midrange shot is still very pretty, and he’s dunking more and more often. His post-up is even looking better. His partner in the paint, Omer Asik, also tried out some post moves, though with… limited success. Once or twice a game the Rockets let Asik do some post work, and while the results aren’t fantastic, practice will hopefully improve his skills. Asik shot 3-5 and grabbed 7 rebounds. Both numbers are low for him, but his minutes (25) were also a little down from average.

The final upside of the Rockets’ loss to the Clippers is that the Clippers win was propped up on a herculean performance in the first quarter. It’s unlikely that the Rockets see such a barrage again for the rest of the year. The other team gave up 18 turnovers and won by double digits. The Clippers shot 77% in the first frame, a feat which the Rockets are unlikely to see again all year. Houston’s turnovers, perimeter defense and transition defense continues to give up easy points, but even the worst teams in the NBA don’t give up 46 points in one quarter.

With the All-Star break right in front of them, the Rockets came out with a particularly lackluster performance, something they had in common with much of the league. To their credit, they fought back somewhat and didn’t let the Clippers dominate them in the following quarters. The damage, however, had already been done. Houston comes home with a 29-26 record at the break, a game and a half behind 7th place Utah, but three games ahead of 9th place Portland. With a week to wash the bad taste of a terrible first quarter out of their mouths, Houston looks forward to the remaining 27 games of the season, hoping to get a few more in the playoffs.

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