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LA Clippers 118, Houston Rockets 107 – Fortunately not a playoff preview

The Clippers have been an awful match-up for the Rockets ever since Chris Paul arrived there, and they secured their 11th win in 12 games against Houston tonight. It was an injury hit affair – as well as the absence of Patrick Beverley (whose meniscus tear has caused much gnashing of teeth) there was no Dwight Howard (ankle) and Blake Griffin left early in the first quarter with back spasms. The Rockets tried a few tactics to get back into the game late on – they tried hacking DeAndre Jordan (unsuccessfully – he went 4-6 in that stretch) and they tried going to their three guard lineup. But nothing worked as the three point shots that had been missing all night started to go in for the Clippers and they pulled away for an easy win.

Early on it seemed like there were some weaknesses in the Clippers’ defence for the Rockets to exploit. Houston ran a lot of pick-and-rolls and were getting a lot of success when they passed the ball to the roll man.  I got the impression that DeAndre Jordan really struggles to keep his mind on multiple defenders – when he steps up to contain the ball he frequently loses track of his man. It might also have been a failure in help defence from the weakside, but whatever the reason Asik and Motiejunas were getting a lot of good looks at the rim out of this action in the early going, allowing the Rockets to build a 15 point lead in the first quarter that actually looked rather promising.

The Clippers made some adjustments to slow this down – they were very aggressively helping to contain against the drive and made it difficult for the guards to get into the paint off the dribble. Unfortunately the Rockets were slow to adapt and kept forcing the ball in to the thicket of reaching arms that awaited them in the paint. Harden (6 TO) was particularly guilty of this but I saw Lin (3 TO) and Canaan (4 TO) do it as well. In the second quarter the turnovers ground the Rockets’ offence to a halt and allowed  the Clippers back into the game.

For all that DeAndre Jordan seemed to struggle with pick-and-roll defence, he was beastly when allowed to camp around the basket and challenge shots in the paint. It often seems as though the Rockets’ mandate to get to the rim leaves them particularly susceptible to the effects of elite rim protection, and the Clippers had that in spades tonight. Shots were blocked or changed with great frequency, and although the Rockets were able to get to the foul line a lot to offset that (they shot 45 free throws!) it sowed a kernel of doubt in the players’ minds that made them hesitant to shoot. That hesitancy converted shots into often wayward jump passes that the Clippers lapped up.

McHale introduced an interesting defensive wrinkle in the absence of Beverley – Parsons was Chris Paul’s primary defender. There was no one coverage they threw at Paul (being predictable would be suicide against such a cerebral player), but they certainly did a lot of switching in the pick-and-rolls. It didn’t really work though as Paul ended up with 30 points on 16 shots to go with 12 assists. He seemed to make the Rockets pay whenever they even hinted at trying to go under a screen, and was able to get where he wanted against the bigger defenders that ended up switched onto him.

I was curious to see how Canaan handled his playing time tonight, and was pleased by what I saw. While he wasn’t able to beat his man off the dribble to get into the paint he was willing to push the ball in transition, move off the ball and generally make things happen. I was afraid he would be anonymous on the court (remember Courtney Fortson?) but his 14 points in 20 minutes would suggest otherwise! An errant pass or two indicated that he still needs some time to build chemistry with rest of the team, but hopefully that will come in the next 10 games or so if McHale feeds him plenty of minutes.

Other thoughts:

  • Griffin may only have played 6 minutes before being hit by back spasms, but that was enough time for him to send Jones to the bench with two quick fouls. Jones never really got going in the game as a result – he was 1-4 for 2 points and a whopping -20 that far outstripped anyone else on the team.
  • I was once again impressed by Motiejunas’ defence – it really has come on leaps and bounds from the start of the season. In one particularly memorable sequence he registered blocks on consecutive defensive possessions. Unfortunately his offence was misfiring a bit. He was slow to get shots up around the rim and was denied going up for layups on at least three occasions (including a particularly egregious one during a 4-on-1 fast-break).
  • Parsons shouldered a huge load tonight. He played 46 minutes, spending most of that guarding Paul, and somehow still found the energy to play a great offensive game. His 28 points (on 19 shots)  came from numerous aggressive drives to the rim. Unfortunately (although perhaps understandably) he faded a bit towards the end.
  • Lin had a poor outing, going 1-9 from the field. I like it when he’s aggressive, but in this game he probably went a little too far and frequently looked out of control. I suspect he will bounce back when he doesn’t have to worry about DeAndre Jordan meeting him at the rim as he seemed to be the most affected by the Centre’s presence.

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