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Clippers 137, Rockets 118: That wasn’t very fun

If you missed tonight’s game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, enter your kitchen, throw an entire slab of butter in the microwave, and press START. I have no idea what this actually looks like, but I bet it’s something reasonably close to Chris Paul-created-mayhem.

Tonight’s game was artful ruination at the hands of one of basketball’s finest players (perhaps the finest at this very moment). Paul had hesitation moves for days, leaving Jeremy Lin in his wake at least half-a-dozen times, prancing around the court, feeding whoever was open for the most efficient shot attempt on nearly every possession. He had nine assists before you could blink, finishing the game with 17 to go along with a casual 23 points. Paul’s performance was both beautiful and tragic.

Speaking of tragedy: James Harden’s defense tonight. Woof. His on ball work had been getting better over the past two games, but tonight all that progress had a nuclear bomb dropped on it. His man, J.J. Redick, had a field day in the first quarter, scoring 15 points on seven shots. After Kevin McHale called a time-out to replace Harden with Chandler Parsons, his new assignment (Jared Dudley) promptly made two wide open three-pointers.

Low energy has been the popular explanation for Harden’s abysmal defense throughout his Rockets tenure, but this all happened in the first quarter. There is no excuse at the beginning of a game to look like you’ve just run a marathon . It seemed like every other play in that first frame, Harden was either getting caught in a back screen, or hardly giving any effort trying to fight through the few he recognized.

The two fouls Harden picked up in the game’s opening two minutes didn’t help, either. Neither did the three fouls Dwight Howard was whistled for in the first quarter. But that wasn’t as significant a factor as it sounds. The Clippers were picking Houston apart in the early going even with Howard and Omer Asik on the court together.

It was also the first time since the opener where Houston made an effort to get their center the ball in the post, which goes to show just how vital it is for the Rockets to a) get out in transition after making a stop or forcing a turnover and b) having Harden engaged, initiating pick-and-rolls and controlling the tempo.

Right now straight post touches to Howard aren’t an offense worth writing home about, especially when Asik is his frontcourt partner, limiting space and allowing quicker doubles once Howard puts the ball on the floor.

This recap sounds dire, because the game was that. But there were still several bright spots. First and foremost, Omri Casspi. He began the game scoring nine points in what felt like 15 seconds, draining three deep triples to keep Houston in the game. Casspi made plays off the dribble, grabbed a few boards in traffic (he finished with nine), and made Blake Griffin work exceptionally hard on the defensive end. He led the team with 19 points after missing Houston’s last game against the Utah Jazz with a sprained ankle.

Another bright spot: Greg Smith! Remember him? He entered in the first quarter and went 6-6 from the floor for 12 points and seven boards. That was pleasant to see. Everyone else was far from their best, though an exception could be made for Francisco Garcia, who’s slowly becoming one of Houston’s most important players.

Parsons, Lin, and Asik were all non-factors, and Aaron Brooks showed brief promise attacking the basket when Byron Mullens was masquerading as a rim-protector, but that’s about it. Every 82 game regular season is booby-trapped with an occasional buzz saw, and tonight Houston ran into their first. Hopefully they shake it off in time for Portland.

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