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Game Day: Rockets vs. Clippers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from Houston’s Saturday night showdown with the Clippers Saturday night at Toyota Center:

- Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Rockets again struggled in their attempt to begin the game on the right foot. The Clippers provided Houston’s players, coaches and fans with a strong sense of déjà vu in the early going as they raced out to an 18-8 lead through the first seven minutes of the opening period. Chris Paul was orchestrating LA’s offense as brilliantly as ever while the Rockets were scuffling to find the bottom of the net, hitting just 33 percent of their first 12 shots from the field.

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Then Head Coach Kevin McHale called upon old reliable: Jeremy Lin and Omri Casspi entered the game to usher in some small-ball and the Rockets’ offense immediately started its ascent into the stratosphere. Suddenly it was all dunks, layups and 3s for Houston as the Rockets closed the quarter with an 18-4 run to seize the lead and transform what was shaping up to be an awful period into a rather positive one. The Rockets hit seven of their final 10 shots, Dwight Howard led the team with 10 points and, perhaps best of all, CP3 picked up a pair of fouls.

- Omri Casspi’s plus/minus in the first half: a ridiculous +20. Then again, that shouldn’t come as any sort of real surprise given the fact Casspi came into the game as the team-leader in that category, averaging a +/- of +8 per contest.

- Mentioned this before the season started but it certainly bears repeating: Jeremy Lin has a shot to be a serious candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Up to this early juncture of the season, Lin has started more games than not, of course, but he’s largely been very effective in both roles and he again provided a real spark from his reserve role in the first half when he delivered 6 points and 6 assists in 15 minutes of action, repeatedly making mincemeat of the Clippers’ feeble attempts to keep him out of the paint (In fact, his first half +/- of+21 trumped even Casspi’s). Lin’s pick-and-roll chemistry with Asik was clearly evident and he has thus far more than lived up to his preseason promise to push the pace and attack the rim at every opportunity. He came into the game sporting the second-highest PER (19.0) on the team (behind only James Harden’s 24.5), further highlighting his strong start to the 2013-14 campaign. (Note: Apparently writing those words at halftime proved to be some sort of J-Lin jinx – in the third quarter Lin had just a single assist while turning the ball over four times and he ended the game with a +/- of +1. New life rule: No more award talk seven games into the season).

- Speaking of strong play at the point guard spot, Patrick Beverley proved the worth of his dogged defense and in-your-face intensity tonight. There’s no doubt his absence was profoundly felt last Monday night when Paul and the Clips ran roughshod over the Rockets and, after getting off to a slow start, he hammered that point home once again during the first two-plus quarters with his scoring, defense (a career-high four steals including a particularly sweet strip of CP3 that he then converted into a layup) and his unique ability to get under the skin of the man he’s defending. Tonight his primary cover was the incomparable Paul and though no one on the planet is going to shut down CP3, Beverley at least made the Clippers’ all-world point guard work for most everything he got. And yes, the handful of run-ins and stare downs between the two fiercely competitive players was perhaps the most predictable occurrence of the evening.

- Continuing the early season trend, Houston’s big lineup performed considerably better in the third quarter tonight than they did in the first (admittedly, that bar had been set pretty low). The Rockets managed to build their lead to 12 at one point in the period and looked to be in full control of the contest until …

- Beverley’s aggression got the better of him and he committed his fourth foul at the 6:24 mark. From that point forward, Houston would score just four points over the course of the rest of the quarter while the Clippers closed the period with a game-changing 13-0 run that extended to 18-0 in the fourth until Dwight Howard stopped the bleeding with a put-back bucket. The damage, however, had already been done. The Rockets got within four points of LA when Harden re-entered the game and immediately produced an and-1 hoop, but Houston got no closer the rest of the way. Chris Paul weaved his magic, Blake Griffin was a beast on the low-block and Jamal Crawford rained in 28-foot bombs as if they were layups. Houston’s offense, meanwhile, just looked completely out of sync for much of the period – just as it had during the latter half of the third quarter when control of the contest slipped right through the Rockets' collective fingers. It was a stunning development given the high-scoring nature of this club’s offense, but it was made doubly so by the fact that its undoing came at the hands of the Clippers, who entered the game with the last-ranked defense in the NBA.

During happier times in the third quarter, it looked like the Rockets were on their way to drinking just the elixir that would remove the bad taste in their mouth left behind from Thursday’s loss to the Lakers. Instead, they now find themselves 0-3 for the season against Los Angeles after dropping a 107-94 decision to the Clips tonight. In today's microwave society this is never a popular sentiment to express, but during these early days it’s always imperative to keep an even keel – things are rarely as good as or bad as one is inclined to believe. That was true when the Rockets raced off to a 3-0 start and it’s just as true now that they’re 4-3 with one loss coming on a near buzzer-beater and two more coming to a terrific Clippers team that's one of a handful of squads with a legit chance to compete for the title this season.

The Rockets obviously want to be a part of that group as well. To do so, Houston’s players need to get healthy (Harden was a true game-time decision tonight with a pair of sore feet) and get on the same page. The defensive energy and awareness must make major strides and become more consistent. The slow starts that have repeatedly put the team in early holes must be eliminated. The Rockets are in the process of facing their first bitter taste of adversity of the young season. How they handle it and respond will be telling. They’ll get their next opportunity to do so Monday night when the Raptors come to town.

This was never going to be easy. It may have looked that way while the Rockets were romping past teams in the preseason, but seven games into the real thing it’s apparent to all that this club is still very much in the process of trying to find itself and figure things out. And that’s … OK (other teams currently sporting 4-3 records, by the way: the Heat, Warriors and, yes, the Clippers). I said it this summer, I said it during the preseason and I’ll say it again now: Miami started 9-8 during the first year of its Big Three era. That squad eventually made it all the way to the Finals. But for all the otherworldly talent they had/have, it still took a good 18 months for the Heat to finally figure out their ideal identity and fully maximize the immense potential they possessed. Instant karma might get you from time to time, but instant chemistry is much tougher to come by in this league.

None of that eventual success is guaranteed to Houston, of course. But it does serve as a reminder that chemistry frequently comes in fits and spurts. Never forget that the quest for greatness in the NBA, as it is in life, is a process. The Rockets need a lot of things right now. But what they require more than anything is time.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On what changed offensively in the 3rd quarter) “We were on the line trying to get it to 13 and then it just snowballed from there. We missed some shots and we started doubting it and we stopped taking some shots that we needed to take. Then we got a lot of turnovers and then we just got really passive. We just got nothing going from that point on. They (Clippers) really took advantage of it. Our offense dried up and conversely our defense started drying up. I don't know how many times they got to the line in the 3rd quarter but they got to the line quite a bit in that 3rd quarter. We just couldn't muster any kind of response.”

(On the play of the Rockets this season) “We haven't really hit a stride as a team. We're struggling. We struggle on and off but we'll win some games. We just seem out of sync a lot when we're playing and you can feel it. It feels like it's a grind. There are times when it's running smooth and we're moving. It feels good. Right now, we're just not in a good groove where we're playing well.”

(On the Rockets defense) “I thought for awhile we were playing good solid defense and then we went through a stretch at the end of the 3rd where we had too many turnovers that led to their (Clippers) baskets. They made a couple of tough shots. They were making tough shots and we were missing good shots. I didn't like our reaction to that. It seemed like everybody just started getting down. We're going to go through those periods. You just have to become more resilient as a team and have more belief and we'll get things done.”

(On Pat Beverley's play) “Patrick played very well. He was pestering Chris Paul. He had four steals. He did a nice job on Paul and Paul is a helluva player. In the end, they (Clippers) were able to break away some but I thought he (Beverley) did a nice job.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On how things changed in the second half) “We just stopped playing the way we had played to get the lead and when you are playing against a team like the Clippers, they've been together a couple of years and they play well together. We had to continue to do things that got us the lead and we didn't do that tonight and they capitalized on it. They got a good road win.”

(On the Rockets maintaining consistency) “We have to do that for four quarters and be consistent in what we do. We can't do it for a quarter or two for us to be a championship team. That's something we have to get better at. Right now, we're facing a little adversity, losing two games. We can't lose our head. We have to keep our cool. We've got to stay together and now is a great test for us. We have to stay focused. Every team goes through phases like this in the season.”

JEREMY LIN

(On what went wrong that caused the loss in lead) “I'm not really sure. I need to go back and take a look at the film. I really don't know. I think we didn't get back to moving the ball as much. I think the ball got a little sticky.”

(On the building pressure during the Clippers 18-0 run) “We had to really battle through that, battle through adversity. When times get tough, we have to get closer and not grow further apart. That's all part of the process, the building process.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On what went wrong in the game) “It was a second half collapse. The first half we did a good job, especially on the defensive end. In the second half it was just the opposite. We could not knock down shots. They (Clippers) got a lot of easy points because of our ability to not knock down shots.”

On if the Rockets are searching for consistency seven games into the season) “Yes, it is only seven games and we are alright. It's still early in the beginning. Obviously, tough losses. It's tough one, but it's still early. We've got a long way to go. We have 75 more games to go so it's just the beginning for us.”

(On if his foot is bothering him) “It was hard. It was hard to move out there. I couldn't really be aggressive like I wanted to. I was just trying to make plays for my teammates, especially late in the game. It kind of got stiff later in the game but that's not an excuse for us to lose.”

PAT BEVERLY

(On if consistency was the issue) “Yep. The biggest thing with us is we are a young team. It's not an excuse. We just need to learn how to keep fighting. That's the biggest thing with us. Not offense, not defense. Just to be able to fight and grind games out. Luckily, it is happening early than later so we'll be straight.”

L.A. CLIPPERS COACH DOC RIVERS

(On the game) “I kept telling them to hang in there. We started out so well and then things went bad and we went bad. We were all pouting and our language was awful and I just kept telling them to hang around and we’ll find something defensively. When they went small, it really hurt us. They (Rockets) were running the single side action and we were not in the right places. We saw it on the bench, but we didn’t correct it until we got in at halftime. Even at the start of the third quarter, I think I used two quick timeouts, but still didn’t think we had the right body language. This was a good team builder. We hung around and got it going and our defense won the game for us. Houston had, I think five points in the last six minutes (third quarter) and the whole second half against a good offensive team. I thought Darren Collison was fantastic and Jamal (Crawford) made big shots. I thought the biggest part of the game was when Blake and Chris got four fouls and we left them in the game and they didn’t pick up the fifth. I thought that was huge for us and it allowed us to get a run.”

(On DeAndre Jordan’s play) “He does so many things. You don’t see the thirty points, but he creates more, which is rebounding, with his defense. We played him fifteen straight minutes in the game, and we felt like at that point we had nowhere else to go. He was playing so well and he kept saying he wanted to stay in. I thought his presence when we were all small and he stayed inside all by himself was huge. He and Blake are underrated passers and we kept the floor spaced, and we threw it to him and he threw it back and that was really key for us.”

CHRIS PAUL

(On the key to the game) “It was our defensive intensity. We knew going into this game that this was a team that made a lot of runs but at the same time they (Rockets) will let us back in the game. Once we started the third quarter, we came out and played with a lot more purpose, more passion. That tip in by Jamal at the end of the third quarter was huge for us. Basketball is a long game. I watch more basketball than anybody and it reminds me of a game on League Pass. When I’m watching and you think the game is over, then it’s a two point game. You just have to find way to win it. We started having more activity (third quarter) and we showed up to the fight late, which we can’t do because they were a little grittier and a little scrappier than we were. We finally said enough is enough and came out with a win.”

BLAKE GRIFFIN

(On changed in the third quarter) “I think we have a habit, I know I have a bad habit, when things aren’t going right to kind of hang my head a little bit. I don’t think anybody does that in a way to reflect on their teammates, but it’s just a disappointing thing we fall into. We have to know that were never out of the game. It started on defense and we got stops defensively and we had a lot of energy on defense and that helped our offense run. This was good for us and we’ll take wins like this especially on the end of this road trip.”

JAMAL CRAWFORD

(On his play) “My teammates and the coaching staff always put me in terrific positions and I have the easy part in making the shots. I’m always comfortable in those situations and I’ve been doing it my whole life in running down the clock and getting a good shot up.”

(On what sparked the Clippers in the 3rd quarter) “We were challenging each other. Chris got it started being a spark plug for us. I think it was kind of slow to start the game and we just followed his lead and coach kept challenging us to get defensive stops because that breaks a team’s spirit. Our offense was coming from our defense.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,108, marking a fourth straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets suffered a 107-94 loss to the Clippers tonight, dropping two straight outings at home since January of last season. Houston had won five consecutive home games following a loss at Toyota Center.

Houston was outscored 27-16 in the third quarter, which included a 13-0 run by the Clippers to close out the quarter.

Each team held and lost a double-digit lead tonight, with the Rockets overcoming a 10-point deficit to take a 13-point lead in the second quarter.

After winning the battle of the boards in each of their first five games, the Rockets have now been outrebounded in consecutive games: 44-47 vs. the Lakers (11/7/13) and 42-45 vs. the Clippers (11/9/13).

Chandler Parsons topped the Rockets with 23 points (9-15 FG, 2-5 3FG) and eight rebounds tonight. In six previous games against the Clippers, Parsons’ best point total was just 17 points (done twice).

Dwight Howard finished with 21 points (8-14 FG), eight rebounds and two blocks tonight, marking his second 20-point outing of the season.

Patrick Beverley totaled a career-high 19 points (6-13 FG, 3-8 3FG, 4-4 FT) to go along with a career-best four steals and a career-high-tying two blocked shots. Beverley’s previous career high in scoring was 15 points at Washington (2/23/13).

Jeremy Lin recorded a team-high seven assists and James Harden chipped in with five helpers as the two combined for 12 of Houston’s 21 assists.

J.J. Redick registered 22 points (8-15 FG, 3-7 3FG) and four steals tonight, which included eight points (2-4 3FG) in the opening quarter. Redick has now scored 64 of his 123 points (52%) this season in the first quarter.

Blake Griffin posted 22 points (9-16 FG) and seven boards tonight. Griffin entered tonight’s contest having topped 20 points and 10 rebounds in four of his prior five games.

Chris Paul collected 14 points (5-13 FG) and 13 assists tonight. Paul has now recorded a double-double in all seven games this season, including his 23 points (7-13 FG, 8-8 FT) and 17 assists against the Rockets at Los Angeles (11/4/13).

DeAndre Jordan notched 12 points (6-8 FG), 18 rebounds and three blocks tonight, which marked his third double-double of the season.