Rockets 140, Clippers 116 - Rockets avoid collapse to put Clippers away

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The Houston Rockets just managed to avoid a Game-6-like collapse against the very team that made that collapsed – the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers were without Chris Paul in addition to Blake Griffin (who has been out following knee surgery) and had their head coach ejected, but the Rockets managed to wake up from their slumber to get the job done.

Without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers were always going to struggle to keep up with Houston’s high-octane offense. Los Angeles kept the game close for a good part of the first quarter, forcing six turnovers and relying on Austin Rivers to put up points (9 for the period).

James Harden had a magnificent start to this game, recording an insane first quarter stat line – 17 points, nine rebounds, 3 assists, and two steals. Houston locked in defensively and ended the quarter on a 22-6 run. Eric Gordon was perfect from the three-point line in the first and Patrick Beverley was disruptive on defense and on the glass. At the end of the first quarter, the Rockets were up 37-23.

If the first quarter was bad for the Clippers, the second quarter seemed like a total nightmare. DeAndre Jordan picked up his third foul in less than fifteen minutes, and both members of the Rivers family were ejected from the game and will be making donations to the National Basketball Association for their troubles. Austin, the Clippers lone bright spot offensively, was unhappy with an official for not getting a call and made contact with the official in his frustration. It was mild contact, and the referee probably had too quick of a trigger finger, but you can’t touch a ref – period.

Doc Rivers followed in his son’s footsteps and got himself ejected during a timeout, after arguing with an official and gesturing toward the ref who ejected Austin. All of this only managed to slow the Rockets down offensively and, thanks to a decline in energy and LA hitting open shots, the Clippers actually cut Houston’s lead to 12 (it was 25 at one point) on the back of a discouraging 17-4 run. The Rockets picked things up after a Mike D’Antoni timeout and went into halftime with a 74-57 lead.

The third quarter very much felt like the end of the second, with the Rockets playing down to a depleted Clippers squad and allowing the lead to be cut to six. Raymond Felton was the primary option for LA offensively, scoring 18 points in the third period, and DeAndre Jordan absolutely took over the paint with 14 points and seven rebounds – dominating Montrezl Harrell in the process. The Clippers scored 41 points in the third, but the Rockets managed to hold onto a 108-98 lead.

Despite shooting 60% in the first half, the Rockets shooting fell off some in the second (defense the bigger issue). This was most evident with Ryan Anderson, who has struggled shooting in Houston all season long. On Friday, he made only one of nine three-point attempts (most were wide-open) and wouldn’t play at all in the final period.

Houston really picked things up in the fourth quarter with Harden getting rest, going on a 16-0 run after the Clippers had once again cut the lead to six. Los Angeles was no doubt gassed from making an incredible comeback, and Houston’s energy guys – Beverley and Harrell, in particular – took advantage. Harrell got out in transition and made several trips to the free throw line to give himself a career night – 29 points on 10/14 shooting (and 9/11 from the free throw line) – and the Rockets a huge, game-ending lead.

James Harden got his seventh triple-double of the season with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists (with five steals), Trevor Ariza scored 18 points (five threes) and dished out seven assists, Patrick Beverley scored 15 points and hauled in seven rebounds, and Eric Gordon contributed 19 points. All of this led to Houston’s highest scoring output of the season (140) and a 3 ½ game lead on the Clippers for third place in the Western Conference.

The Rockets hope to close out 2016 with a win over the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve. A win would also give Houston a 15-2 record for the month of December.

Game Ball

 This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Tuesday’s game ball goes to Montrezl Harrell.

Friday was a story of redemption for Montrezl Harrell.

Despite his defensive and rebounding woes, allowing DeAndre Jordan to take over in the third quarter and nearly complete a miraculous comeback, he had a career-night offensively and ignited the 16-0 run in the fourth (with Harden on the bench) that would put the game away. He’s undersized, but he needs to become a better rebounder if he wants to be a key role player on a Playoff team – he only recorded three rebounds in 30 minutes.
With regard to his career-night, it felt like a matter of time. His motor is always running and he’s shown flashes of being capable of a game like this. As James Harden said in his post-game interview on Root Sports, “We knew it was coming.”

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