The Los Angeles Clippers, hot off a big win over the Grizzlies, landed in Houston and showed why they’re a team predicted to go to the Western Conference Finals. Even without Chauncey Billups and star point guard Chris Paul, even on the second night of a back to back, even on the road, the Clippers and their brutal bench depth proved too much for the Rockets to overcome. The Clippers had a blazing hot 32-18 third quarter led by Jamal Crawford and his season-high 30 points and the Rockets just couldn’t catch up.
The Rockets looked like a trap game for the Clippers heading into the evening, and ended both the first and second quarters with a one point lead. The Clippers immediately exploded out of the gate in the third, getting out to a fifteen point lead within six and a half minutes. Jamal Crawford was the Rockets’ bane, finding open shots and hitting contested ones. Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe also did their damage, as both of their skill sets continue to mature. Despite the recent run of inspired play, it’s clear that the Rockets aren’t an elite team, and have a lot of maturing to do.
The Rockets managed to lose despite posting a respectable 50% from the field and a serviceable 35% from three. Both teams had very similar numbers overall: 35 Clippers rebounds vs 34 for Houston, 18 vs 16 turnovers in Houston’s favor. The Clippers only made one more field goal, and they only shot one more free throw (26 to 25). Despite that, it was a fairly convincing victory for the Clippers throughout the last 18 minutes of the game. The difference was that the Rockets missed 14 of their 25 free throws, as opposed to only 4 misses for the Clippers. The Rockets’ free throw woes continue to get worse as they continue their stretch of back to back games. As a team that purposefully lives on the charity stripe, an ongoing stretch of misses there is likely to keep matching an ongoing stretch of losses.
While the Rockets’ defense was below par, and their offense showed stretches of lethargy, there were some positive takeaways. Head Coach Kevin McHale didn’t play anyone 36 or more minutes, though he seemed to hold out hope in the fourth quarter for a questionably long period of time. He eventually threw in the towel, however, and the more rested the Rockets are for a winnable game in Dallas the following evening, the better.
James Harden continues to be James Harden, though the January edition pales next to the December model. Harden still put up 23 points, but 8-23 shooting is well below his standards. His peripherals (4 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal) were fine, but he continues to cough the ball up, giving the Clippers 5 turnovers. It’s to be expected that he turns it over more as he assumes more of the point guard load (and in fact he was the only member of the guard rotation on the floor for a late stretch), and the Clippers are the best team at forcing turnovers in the league. That said, Harden looks sloppy and tired, and is simply not playing to his capacity. The sooner he gets back to form, the better.
Chandler Parsons had a field day, seemingly getting to the rim at will. He his 2 of his 4 threes and knocked down 7 of 10 overall for a solid 17 points. He notched 4 assists and only 1 turnover on what is becoming just another Tuesday for him. As an older rookie, he may benefit from coming into the league closer to his ceiling. But even if this is his ceiling, it’s a fine level of play that will find him a starting position in most NBA rosters. He’s happy to provide whatever’s missing on any given night, and if his shot continues to get back in shape, so will the Rockets’ record.
Lin notched a double double with 12 points and 10 assists and only 1 turnover. His shooting is still lacking (5-11 overall, 1-4 from deep), but his overall game is looking more capable and comfortable. While he may not be putting up numbers commensurate with his All Star votes, he’s finding his place in the Rockets’ offense and earning his paycheck. There’s increasingly little doubt that he’s a starting point guard in the NBA, especially since his most glaring problem is shooting, which can and should be remedied to a large degree.
Asik had a mediocre game, grabbing only 7 points and 9 rebounds. The fact that this is a mediocre game for him is reason for optimism, but his general effort is not. Asik is prone to looking winded and disappointed on the court, but his performance against the Clippers seemed particularly halfhearted. He lost his man a number of times on the defensive glass or in transition, and only hit one of three free throws. Asik’s endurance has been suspect all year, and it may simply be that he is fatigued and will also have trouble with athletic bigs like DeAndre Jordan.
Patterson got his return to the starting lineup, but may find himself losing that spot soon. He only hit 2 of his 5 shot attempts, and pulled down a paltry 2 boards. While his defense of Blake Griffin was decent, he just didn’t have the energy necessary to keep up with a team like the Clippers. Morris, on the other hand, fought hard off the bench, picking up 12 points and 8 rebounds, as well as defending a number of positions to varying degrees of effectiveness. This battle looks likely to be ongoing, and may see McHale changing the starter depending on his estimation of the other team.
Toney Douglas and Carlos Delfino both had solid games off the bench, each shooting 50% from the field. Delfino missed 5 of his 7 threes, however, after having a few very strong shooting games. To some degree threes are streaky by their volatile nature, and this is to be expected from a three point specialist. However, that 2-7 line comes up too often for comfort, and Delfino seems to be a bellwether for the team to some degree. Hopefully Douglas and Delfino will see their shooting numbers climb back up after the exhausting January schedule is in the rear view.
Patrick Beverly also finally got NBA minutes, and notched a steal, a three and an assist all within his first NBA minute. At least one Rocket got value from this nasty loss. The rest of the team need to try not to get frustrated during a rough schedule patch and take winnable games. The Rockets suffered a particularly rough loss to the Clippers, losing the game despite only losing one quarter. The mental toughness that saw the Rockets power through other teams’ leads seems to be fading as the Rockets’ energy levels dip dangerously low. They’ll need a win soon, or the precious chemistry the Rockets have built could begin to slip away.