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Clipped Again

January 15, 2013 11:09 pm EST

Third quarter scoring spree lifts red-hot Clippers to 117-109 win over Rockets

HOUSTON - For one half Tuesday night, the Rockets stood toe to toe with the Clippers. They had turned the ball over too many times and missed too many free throws, but even those miscues had hardly prevented Houston from largely laying waste to Los Angeles’ third-ranked defense behind a barrage of 3-pointers and offensive rebounds.

Of course the Rockets can score on just about anyone – that hardly even ranks as a headline anymore. After all, there’s a reason this team has held a top-10 offensive ranking for much of the year. What’s been their bugaboo far more often than not this season has been an inability to consistently generate stops on the other end of the floor. When Houston’s offense runs cold, so too do its chances to win. And rarely has that fact been hammered home harder than it was during the second half of Tuesday’s game when the Clippers suddenly, startlingly and irrevocably turned a close contest into a route.

The transformation began innocently enough, as Blake Griffin (19 points, 8 assists) started the third quarter by following up his own miss with a bucket while being fouled. The next time down the floor, DeAndre Jordan scored on a putback of his own, prompting a quick 20-second timeout from Houston head coach Kevin McHale, who was hoping to help ensure that his club wouldn’t fall victim to a third straight third quarter swoon. But instead of plugging the leak, the Rockets subsequently allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by a flood. What followed were the remnants of an astounding 25-6 Clippers run that saw Los Angeles score on 12 of its first 14 possessions of the half.

The Clippers did it all during that stretch: posting-up, draining 3s, hammering home dunks, scoring off of cuts and race-outs in transition. And when the Rockets tried to bounce back with a rally of their own, Jamal Crawford (30 points) slammed the door shut with a one-man scoring spree of his own to begin the fourth quarter. It was a frightening display of firepower from a Clippers team that sits just a half-game behind Oklahoma City for the best record in the NBA, especially given that Los Angeles was playing its second straight game without MVP candidate and all-world point guard Chris Paul. For the Rockets, however, it was a sobering reminder of all the work that remains to be done on the defensive end; a subject that stood front and center following the club’s 117-109 defeat – Houston’s fourth straight loss overall.

“We didn’t play much defense,” lamented Chandler Parsons, who finished with 17 points. “Blake was doing whatever he wanted to do. Crawford ended up heating up and I thought individually our defense just wasn’t real good.

“There’s no excuse for guys getting blown by or just dominated like we got. We’ve got to man up and get better … We know the scouting reports. Like Jamal Crawford scores on everybody. But at some point, who’s going to shut his water off? How are you going to let Blake Griffin score four or five possessions in a row? They’re obviously really good players, I’m not taking anything away from them, but it’s just that when guys get going like that, we’ve got to put out their fire quickly.”

The Rockets were unable to douse those flames and, as a result, they got burned. Eric Bledsoe, Willie Green and Crawford each set season highs for scoring Tuesday night during an evening that saw the Clippers connect on eight of the 12 3-pointers the club launched in the second half. Little wonder, then, that Parsons laid down the challenge for himself and each of his teammates to accept responsibility for the team’s defensive shortcomings and to start taking it personally when those one-on-one battles are being lost on a regular basis.

Tuesday’s contest also represented the latest reminder of just how quickly fortunes can change in the NBA. Just one week ago, the Rockets were hitting the road on the highest of highs, having easily dispatched LA’s “other” team while recording its fifth straight win. Now Houston is embarking upon a four-game road trip searching for the swagger and confidence it misplaced somewhere in New Orleans around the start of the fourth quarter of last week’s game in the Big Easy.

Of course, such reversals of fortune inspire hope that the pendulum of momentum will soon shift back in Houston’s direction. A road win in Dallas Wednesday would cure a lot of short-term ills in a hurry. But big picture, the Rockets must rediscover the joys of playing sound defense. Then and only then will they be able to consistently compete with the NBA's elite for more than merely one half at a time.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On the Clippers’ third quarter run)

We didn’t play well. They came out with much higher energy than we did. They got the ball inside to Griffin and he went to work … Then we stood around offensively and didn’t move the ball.

(on Crawford’s shooting)

He’s a tough shot maker. At that point, you’ve got to try to get him out of his comfort zone. He made some tough shots but he’s a tough shot maker.

(on the offense)

We played one side of the court on the offensive end in the third quarter and took too many long shots without moving the ball. We allowed them to just come out and show high on a lot of our screening action and never slipped behind them – that’s something that we worked on yesterday which is frustrating. Teams do that to us and we don’t make them pay enough. We just gave in I thought in the third quarter. We didn’t have what we need to have to keep that game within closing distance. 

(On Omer Asik’s free throw shooting affecting his play) “I don't think so. Omer will shoot free throws good again. I'm positive. He went through a good stretch and he'll get another one.”

JAMES HARDEN

We were up one and then they had a hot third quarter. We did a poor job of coming out with energy and execution.

We can’t do that, especially coming off a three-game losing streak. We have to be better, especially on the defensive end. We can score the ball, but defensively we have to guard in order to win games. It’s simple. We’re not guarding anyone.

CHANDLER PARSONS

We didn’t play much defense. Blake was doing whatever he wanted to do. Crawford ended up heating up and I thought individually our defense just wasn’t real good. The first half we turned the ball over too many times; we were getting face cut, just simple things that added up to us getting down.

We felt stagnant sometimes. I thought sometimes we settled for jumpers, that’s why at the beginning of the third quarter I wanted to drive to the basket and wanted to get fouled. We didn’t get many transition buckets which is our bread and butter.

(what do you need to do to get better?)

Taking better care of the ball and individually playing better defense. Obviously help-side needs to be there but there’s no excuse for guys getting blown by or just dominated like we got. We’ve got to man up and get better.

We know the scouting reports. Like Jamal Crawford scores on everybody. But at some point, who’s going to shut his water off? How are you going to let Blake Griffin scores four or five possessions in a row? They’re obviously really good players, I’m not taking anything away from them, but it’s just that when guys get going like that, we’ve got to put out their fire quickly.

CARLOS DELFINO

(On what the difference of the game was) “I think it is about intensity and knowing your strengths in the game. They had a great stretch with Jamal (Crawford) hitting shots and playing one on one. But when you look at a guy like him, when he's getting hot, it’s tough to come back and cool him down. As a team, we have to learn to play together and overcome the tough situations we're having right now for the last four games. It has been tough for us to come back , stick together and work hard, try to watch a little video and come back to do what we do best, which is win. First of all, playing hard defense and then run the court and make open shots and then just run the court.”

(On the game plan against the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow) “Intensity, we gotta work on our intensity, especially in the first and third quarter. There were little points where we were having bad starts in the game. Right now we have slow starts but in the third quarter, it’s always slow. We always run and pass all the time and today was kind of slow. It’s tough especially against these kinds of teams so Dallas is a team with a lot of experience and they're playing good so we gotta work it. We have to try to and come with a different energy in the first and the third and try to do better (first and third quarter).”

JEREMY LIN

(On what happened in the third quarter that changed the game) “We just came out flat and didn't have the energy we needed and then they (Clippers) got it going on offense and pushed us around in the post and then the guards didn't help and didn't stop the cutters and so they got a lot of points in the paint.”

(On what went wrong offensively for the Rockets) “Honestly, I think we just couldn't get a rhythm. They (Clippers) were getting everything but we were not getting any stops. I think we just lacked the ball movement and the energy and the thrust and pace that we played with in the first half.”

L.A. CLIPPERS COACH VINNY DEL NEGRO

(On the difference in the L.A. Clippers third quarter play) “We started guarding a little bit better. We shot a lot of threes because Houston stretched us out and we were just sharper in the third quarter. We talked to them at halftime about individual pride on defense and we battled well in the third. I thought Willie (Green) really shot the ball well and Jamal (Crawford) really got going in the fourth to take over the game. I thought Eric (Bledsoe) played well for us again and controlled the tempo of the game. Lamar (Odom) with eleven rebounds and (Blake) Griffin set the tone early. I was pleased with how we came out in the third quarter.”

(On Jamal Crawford’s play) “I want to get him the ball in the off-guard spot. Jamal (Crawford) is going to score when he gets going like that. It doesn’t who you put on him but overall he made some tough shots for us and opened up the lead.”

(On the game) “Houston makes it tough because they stretch you out. After we got some of our switches cleared up at halftime, we did a better job in the third and we controlled the game from there. We have good versatility, but we have to find out our way and I was pleased that we were only down one at half with the way we played. I knew we would come out in the third quarter and play harder.”

GRANT HILL

(On playing his 1,000th NBA game) “When you say that, it makes me tired. It feels good to be able to come in and help the team and we support and care for one another and we give ourselves a chance to win every night and hopefully a chance to win a championship. It was an important milestone.”

(On his play) “It’s coming, but I’m not where I want to be. I was frustrated when I went to the bench, but I knew I had to battle through it. It felt good to get out there. It’s coming and I just have to stay patient and keep working.”

JAMAL CRAWFORD

(On the game) “I liked this game. No, I really did, I liked this game. We do it collectively, that’s what it’s all about. At different points in the game, Blake (Griffin) had it going, Matt (Barnes), Grant (Hill) was facilitating and running the show. Obviously, we go through Blake (Griffin) all the time and we had some great stretches. We all pulled for each other, and we’re all in it together and that’s how we win. The game started kind of slow and I wanted to be more aggressive. It’s all about my teammates, and they all got me going setting some great screens, giving good passes. It’s never about me, it’s about all the little things the other guys do.”

NOTES

Houston was outscored by a 32-18 count in the third quarter, which propelled the Clippers to a 117-109 win over the Rockets tonight. The Clippers extended their winning streak over the Rockets to four games (1/4/12-1/15/13).

The Rockets reached a season-best seven games over .500 at 21-14, but have now lost a season-high four straight games (1/9/13-1/15/13).

Houston hit just 14-of-25 (.560) from the charity stripe, while the Clippers made 42-of-78 (.538) from the field. The Rockets also went a season-low .414 (12-29 FT) from the free throw line and the Celtics hit .519 (41-79 FG) from the floor, which added up to a 103-91 loss at Boston (1/11/13).

The Rockets went 41-of-82 (.500) from the field tonight, handing Houston just its second loss this season when shooting .500 or better in a game (record: 10-2).

James Harden totaled 23 points (8-20 FG, 5-6 FT), four rebounds and three assists. Harden, who tonight picked up his 32nd 20-point game of the season, entered 2012-13 with just 29 total 20-point performances over his first three seasons combined with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Chandler Parsons picked up another 17 points (7-10 FG) and four assists tonight. Parsons, who collected 23 points (9-18 FG) and nine boards at Philadelphia (1/12/13), has averaged 19.3 points on 23-of-40 (.575) shooting over the last three games.

Jeremy Lin chipped in with 12 points (5-11 FG), 10 assists and two steals tonight. Lin now has six double-doubles on the season.

Marcus Morris came off the bench tonight with 12 points (4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG) and a career-high-tying eight rebounds. Morris originally set his career best with eight boards vs. Detroit (11/10/12) and matched that total with eight rebounds at the L.A. Lakers (11/18/12).

Jamal Crawford led five Clippers in double-figure scoring with 30 points (11-20 FG, 5-7 3FG, 3-3 FT) off the bench tonight. The Clippers are now 11-1 when Crawford has led the team in scoring. The last player to come off the bench and score 30-plus points against the Rockets was Michael Beasley, who finished with 34 points (10-14 FG, 12-12 FT) for the Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston (1/30/12).

Blake Griffin notched 19 points (7-13 FG, 5-5 FT), a season-high eight assists and four rebounds tonight. Griffin had dished out his previous season best of seven assists three times this season.

Eric Bledsoe had a season-high 19 points (7-12 FG, 4-4 FT), seven rebounds, five assists and two steals tonight. Bledsoe was making another start in place of injured starter Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap). In two seasons with the Clippers, Paul has now missed eight games with the team compiling a record of 5-3 in those contests.

Grant Hill played in his 1,000th career game tonight. Hill becomes the 20th active player with 1,000-plus NBA games played.

Lamar Odom topped all players with 11 boards off the bench tonight, which marked his fifth 10-plus rebounding game of the season.