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Game Day: Rockets at Clippers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 101-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers

  • Rockets vs. Clippers
    Blake Griffin records 23 points and 16 boards, DeAndre Jordan adds a double-double as the Clippers defeat the Rockets.
  • Parsons to Howard
    Chandler Parsons lobs a pass over DeAndre Jordan to Dwight Howard for the alley-oop slam.
  • Rockets vs. Clippers: First half
    Blake Griffin has 12 points but James Harden's 13 points leads the Rockets over the Clippers by two at the half.

LOS ANGELES - 

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- Tonight’s game began with a serious case of déjà vu. It took Kevin McHale less than two minutes to call his first timeout, such was the extent of Houston’s early malaise. The Rockets fell behind 6-0 when McHale brought his troops together, then he was forced to repeat the exercise minutes later when the Clips’ increased their bulge to 14-2. At that point, the contest looked like so many others Houston had suffered in this building since the birth of Lob City, and a long night appeared all but a certainty.

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But shortly thereafter, McHale made what ultimately became a momentum shifting move, inserting Donatas Motiejunas and Jordan Hamilton into the game in an attempt to rouse his sleepwalking team out of its slumber.  The results were instantaneous. D-Mo delivered a layup. Hamilton dished to a wide-open Patrick Beverley in the corner for a 3. The Rockets’ run eventually reached 10 straight points. Just that quickly, they were back in the game, the blowout was avoided and déjà vu finally put to bed.

- Hamilton, by the way, had himself one heck of a half. His seven points, three boards and two steals looked good on the stat sheet, but nothing compared to the fact that he was an eye-popping +22 during his 13 minutes of first half action. As far as strong first impressions go, they don’t come much better than the one Hamilton has produced in the past 24 hours. His final numbers: 16 points, including 4-of-7 shooting from downtown, in just 22 minutes of action. Yeah, that kind of production will do just fine going forward.

"It’s a new start for me," Hamilton said after the game. "It just feels good to have a new start, being on a winning team and playing for a great coach like McHale who makes people comfortable. They brought me right in, everybody welcomed me to the team and that made me feel comfortable and now I’m able to play my game.

I know guys are going to try to double Dwight. I know guys are going to try to go at James, so what I have to is just knock down open shots and play defense."

- All in all, the Rockets had to feel awfully decent about emerging from the first quarter down just four points. They committed the cardinal sin against the Clippers, coughing the ball up five times which Los Angeles quickly converted into nine points as Houston’s transition D struggled to get up to speed. They also survived the fact that Dwight Howard picked up two fouls and was forced from the game with more than three minutes left in the period.

The latter point can be explained in large part by the presence of Omer Asik. Ever since the Turkish big man returned from injury, I’ve been waiting for the game in which Asik saved the Rockets’ bacon and for a time it appeared as if tonight might be the night. His interior defense was downright awesome as he swatted two shots and basically shut down the paint and made it his own on that end of the floor. His first half totals of four points and two boards don’t even begin to capture the totality of his impact through the opening two periods of play.

These numbers, do, however: Houston went on a 33-14 run between the end of the first and start of the second quarter, with some combination of Asik, Motiejunas, Hamilton and Jeremy Lin on the floor for the entirety of that stretch.

- I'm sure it's happened, but I can't remember the last time Jamal Crawford looked even remotely human versus the Rockets. At long last, it happened tonight.  The previously scorching two-guard went 2-for-10 from the floor, including a 1-of-6 mark from beyond the arc before leaving for good due to a calf strain he suffered toward the tail end of the second quarter.

- Have to take a moment to commend Blake Griffin for the work he’s put into becoming a legit superstar in this league. There were times last year when it appeared as if his game had perhaps plateaued. This season, however, there’s no denying the fact he has ascended to a level few in the league can match. He was obviously instrumental in Los Angeles staying float while Paul was hurt earlier this year and he can absolutely and effectively quarterback his club’s offense from the low block, the elbows and even in transition. He was absolutely dominant tonight – just as he’s been ever since the calendar flipped to 2014.

- Man, if you or anyone you know ever question D-Mo’s toughness, you might want to reconsider after seeing the way Motiejunas stood his ground while Big Baby – playing his first minutes as a member of the Clippers tonight – absolutely bowled him over in the fourth quarter. There are charges, and then there are those times when one’s livelihood is on the line. Suffice to say D-Mo had a run-in with the latter this evening. Perhaps most amazing of all: he bounced back up as if he’d instead been hit by Spud Webb.

- The game stayed tight throughout most of the second half as neither club was able to achieve much in the way of separation on the scoreboard. After a slow start – at least by his standards – Dwight Howard regained his rhythm and frequently punished DeAndre Jordan and any other willing Clipper defender down low on his way to another double-double that included 23 points and 11 rebounds. Hamilton, meanwhile, kept putting that sweet stroke of his to good use along the wings, draining three triples in the half.

But other than that, Houston simply never could find its groove as a team. James Harden and Chandler Parsons (who played despite dealing with severe flu-like symptoms) combined to hit just nine of their 29 shots, and the team as a whole missed a countless number of bunnies around the basket. The Rockets’ transition D was a step slow all night and missed myriad assignments, allowing the Clippers to score 30 points off their 20 turnovers and 23 fast break points overall. Add to that the fact that Los Angeles, a bottom-10 offensive rebounding team, racked up 19 second chance points, and you almost start to wonder how the game ended up as close as it was.

"I just couldn’t make a shot" conceded Harden afterward. "I think as a team we couldn't get it going in general. Our wings couldn’t really make a shot or get into the paint and Jordan was just about the only one who could knock down a consistent shot. It was a tough night for us. We’ve been playing so well, we’ve just got to bounce back."

The Rockets will rue the missed opportunity, but the reality is they looked like a team that was playing a back-to-back against an elite team after having spent the past 10 days on the road – which they were. No excuses, but there’s a reason the term “schedule loss” is a very real term in NBA circles.

The good news: Houston wrapped up its longest road trip of the season 3-2 and will now, at long last head home for a spell, starting with a Saturday night matchup against the Detroit Pistons at Toyota Center. The Rockets’ record slipped to 39-19 and they’ve moved back into a tie with the Clips in the Western Conference standings, though they remain a game ahead of Los Angeles in the loss column. Needless to say, a fascinating final two months await.

QUOTES 

KEVIN MCHALE

They had 30 points off our 20 turnovers and they had 19 second chance points. You give up 49 points (in those categories) and that’s just too much. We did not play a very clean game tonight. We did not play a very smart game. We did not play a very good game tonight.

We’ve got to become a better defensive rebounding team, everybody’s got to get in there and we’ve got to quit throwing the ball to the other team.

JAMES HARDEN

RE: Overall thoughts on the game

“As a team we couldn’t get it going in general. Our wings couldn’t really make a shot and get to the paint.

Jordan [Hamilton] was the only one that could knock down a consistent shot. This is a tough night for us. We’ve been playing so well and we’ve just got to bounce back.”

RE: Starting slow

“They always get off to great first quarters. We let it happen again. Coming out to 17-4, trying to fight our way back, we got back into the game, but if we play solid and not giving up so many easy points in transition, we make the game easier for ourselves.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

RE: Overall thoughts on the game

“We’re going to have to see them down the road at some point. We understand that playing this team, we’ve got to get off to better starts. Three games that we’ve lost to this team, and come out slow. They were able to capitalize on that. That’s when they got their energy going, and they were able to play off that. Even though we got back in the game, we’ve got to make sure we take care of the ball. They played some pretty good defense tonight, but we’ve got to get better on the offensive end.”

We’re not a finished team. We’re going to continue to get better.

We understand what we have to do. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to tonight, but we’ve got to capitalize on a couple things when we play against these good teams. Defense has to be better. We have to be able to take care of the ball and we’ve got to continue to play the same way whether we’re playing a subpar team or one of the top teams.

CHANDLER PARSONS

RE: Losing three consecutive games to the Clippers

“With the Clippers, it’s the third time in a row that they’ve beat us. So we just meet them one more time.

It’s a big game for us. We have to know we can beat them. We can’t let them continue to get off to these starts like they’ve been getting off to against us.”

RE: Personal performance

“Played terrible. Felt terrible, played terrible. Just didn’t have any energy, didn’t have any gas tonight.

Definitely need to get some rest.”

JORDAN HAMILTON

It’s a new start for me. It just feels good to have a new start, being on a winning team and playing for a great coach like McHale who makes people comfortable. They brought me right in, everybody welcomed me to the team and that made me feel comfortable and now I’m able to play my game.

I know guys are going to try to double Dwight. I know guys are going to try to go at James, so what I have to is just knock down open shots.

They brought me over here to knock shots down and play defense. The lane is open and the 3-ball is open. Teams pack the paint so it’s time for me to shoot my shot when I’m open.