There are few things that irritate me more  – whether about the Houston Rockets or otherwise – then when people talk about basketball players in terms of “heart” or “will.” Everyone in the NBA playoffs wants to win. The Houston Rockets lost Games 3 and 4 to the Los Angeles Clippers primarily because of horrible defensive execution and a punch-drunk bench, not because of a lack of heart. There is nothing more to it.

But tonight the Rockets did execute better, the Rockets shot better, and the Rockets played harder with their backs against the wall. And this time was yet another blowout, but in favor of the good guys. Harden dropped in a triple double along with 26 points, Howard thrived with DeAndre Jordan in foul trouble, and the result of the Rockets learned of this concept called “shooting.” And now, there will be a Game 6.

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Things were breaking to give the Houston Rockets a surprisingly realistic chance to win a championship. The Warriors, their greatest concern, were struggling with the Grizzlies, the Eastern Conference in general was becoming even more of a tire fire, and the Los Angeles Clippers had a hobbled Chris Paul and a very tired starting lineup. All the Rockets had to do was not suddenly become a horrible team. They had remained an elite team for 82 regular season games and 2 playoff games, so things looked good. Then the Rockets became a horrible team, and now the Rockets are down 3-1 to a far superior Clippers team.

The good news is that Dwight Howard played well. The bad news is literally everything else. The Rockets played terrible defense and offense in the first half when they weren’t fouling DeAndre Jordan endlessly. Somehow the team was down a mere 7 points at halftime despite playing some of the worst ball they’ve ever played. If anything changed, they had a real shot at taking a lead. Well, things did change. The Rockets played even worse and lost as badly as they’ve lost all year.

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I respect the Los Angeles Clippers. I respect them a lot more than most people.

I think Chris Paul is an all-time great, and a top 30 player in the history of the NBA . I think the Clippers are a well-constructed team (well, their starters are). I think that Blake Griffin is a great, well-rounded power forward and anyone who calls him just a dunker is a moron. I think that J.J. Redick is a lethal piece, and an off-ball shooter of the sort which is becoming more important in this league and which Houston desperately needs. And while I do think that Golden State is going to steamroll everyone at this point, the Clippers are the one team that could make things tough for them.

So, I can tolerate losing to the Los Angeles Clippers.

I cannot tolerate losing to Austin Rivers. And Austin Rivers, Austin freaking Rivers, led the Clippers on a 23-0 run which ended this game by the start of the fourth quarter.

I’m just going to close this out with two simple thoughts, which I am sure I have noted at some point in the past.

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Cheames Hurdemph wordmpt.

(Extracts foot, clears throat)

Unique, New York.  Unique, New York.  The Human Torch was denied a bank loan.

The arsonist has oddly shaped feet.

That’s better.  Now, if you’ll allow me a moment:   [read more…]

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Tonight, the Houston Rockets learned the hard lesson that a Los Angeles Clippers team without Chris Paul is still an NBA team. Austin Rivers may be a giant downgrade from CP3, but he’s still able to throw a basketball at a hoop. Glen Davis might not be a world beater, but he’s still going to hit wide open shots. Dwight Howard was the only member of the team to show any sort of agency and any signs of life during a critical game that the Houston Rockets absolutely had to capitalize on. Letting the Clippers steal a win while Chris Paul rests a hamstring injury is either a sign of a team being worse than expected, less mentally prepared than expected, or a terrible combination of the two. This wasn’t simply a Clippers bench going wild. This was a massive egg laid by the Rockets, and now they’re going to have to fight twice as hard for the rest of the series.

The best player of the night was Houston’s pile of 24 turnovers, which had a game-high 34 points. Rockets turnovers had a slightly better night than Clippers turnovers, which was only 23 turnovers deep but only resulted in 21 points, a much worse showing. The Clippers were much more aggressive in the fast break, much more coherent as a team, and generally didn’t look like they expected to play the 7-win Charlotte Bobcats team from 2012. Giving away live ball turnover after live ball turnover was a bold play from Houston, and tonight it just didn’t work out.

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