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Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 137-118 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers

  • Rockets vs. Clippers
    Chris Paul has a huge night scoring 23 points and dishing out 17 assists as the Clippers defeat the Rockets 137-118.
  • Parsons Steal and Dunk
    Chandler Parsons comes up with the steal then drives to the basket for the two-handed jam.
  • The Beat: Daryl Morey
    The Beat crew talks with Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey.

LOS ANGELES - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s 137-118 loss to the Clippers Monday night in Los Angeles:

Post-game:

- I’m not quite sure where to begin when assessing the first half of tonight’s game, but I’m rather certain one shouldn’t start by talking about the defense. Actually, check that because that’s precisely where the conversation begins. There’s just not much to be said about it other than, “There wasn’t any.” The Clippers entered the game with the league’s worst defense and they certainly lived up to that ranking by allowing Houston to score 41 points in the second quarter and 66 overall in the opening half.

The problem for Houston: The club’s fourth-ranked defensive unit completely disappeared amid a toxic combination of foul trouble, Chris Paul’s brilliance, and a bewildering lack of energy and attention paid to seemingly anyone wearing a Clippers jersey coming off a screen or showing any signs of movement whatsoever. Before the first quarter had come to an end, I’d lost track of the number of times Houston’s defenders, especially James Harden, had lost track of their man and in the process conceded wide-open shots or clear paths to the rim. Everything was open. Chris Paul had 9 assists by the end of the opening period. J.J. Redick had 15 points in the same time frame. Dwight Howard, meanwhile, picked up three fouls in less than seven minutes. Little wonder, then, that the Clips owned a 42-25 lead after one and a 78-66 edge at the halftime break.

- The silv … well, we won’t call them silver linings, exactly. How about pewter? Omri Casspi was absolutely sensational in his return from an ankle injury, once again spearheading Houston’s small-ball attack by draining his first three 3-point attempts and racking up 14 first half points. He’s rapidly and remarkably become one of the Rockets’ most valuable players. And Greg Smith (remember him?) was terrific off the bench in his first meaningful minutes of the young season as well, scoring 8 points to go along with six strong rebounds – all accomplished during just six minutes of first half action. By the end of the night, Casspi was Houston’s leading scorer with 19 points and he also tied for the team lead with 9 rebounds. Smith, meanwhile, put up 12 points and 7 rebounds in just 11 minutes tonight.

- Great googly moogly do the Rockets miss Patrick Beverley.

- That said … Chris Paul. Nothing more need be written (save for maybe this: CP3 has been the best player in the league so far this season and he showed why in spectacular spades tonight).

- The Rockets came into the game knowing full well that they had to take care of the ball tonight against the ever-opportunistic Clips. But knowledge is one thing; doing so is another. Turnovers have been a bugaboo for Houston this season and they coughed it up 16 times tonight, leading to 27 LA points.

- Harden's decision-making, energy and attention to detail were just M.I.A. tonight. He’s an absolutely terrific player and his defense has been markedly improved this season from where it was a year ago. But nights like tonight show he still has plenty of room for growth in that regard which isn’t unexpected. There aren't too many perfect or fully-formed players in this league at the age of 24.

- The Rockets’ fourth quarter in 30 words or less: A missed 3 by the red-hot Francisco Garcia that would have trimmed Houston’s deficit to 6; a missed dunk by Chandler Parsons; a missed bunny by Howard. The Clippers’ fourth quarter: CP3. Ballgame.

QUOTES

ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN MCHALE

RE: Overall thoughts on tonight’s game

“We had no defensive intensity. They had 41 points in the first quarter, and it just kind of snowballed from there. We couldn’t get a handle on them at all tonight. They did whatever they wanted.”

RE: Team’s foul trouble

“That never helps us, and Dwight [Howard] is our anchor on the defensive end, so it always helps to have him out there. But all that being said, we did not jam the paint. They had 15 threes and a ton of paint points. They had the best of both worlds. We wanted to try to keep them out of the paint and make them shoot long jump shots. We weren’t able to do that.”

RE: Matchup vs. Clippers

“We’ve got them on Saturday, so we will see them again. It was one of those nights where they had it really rolling, and we couldn’t find a rhythm defensively at all. We made a couple runs at them, and Chandler [Parsons] had a chance to dunk it and get [the lead] to nine. We had opportunities on the break but we turned it over. They ran off every one of our mistakes and made us pay for them. We couldn’t get our footing defensively, at all.”

JAMES HARDEN

RE: Clippers’ fast start

“We talked about it before the game. They always get off to a great start, especially in that first quarter. They had 40 points in the first quarter, and we were just trying to fight back the entire game. We would get it to eight points, and then they would score two in a row. We just put ourselves in a tough position tonight.”

RE: Rockets’ defensive efforts

“Sluggish, we still shot the ball well, but just didn’t get any stops on the defensive end. We have to pride ourselves on defense, and tonight we just didn’t get it done.”

RE: Team’s foul trouble

“Dwight [Howard] and myself, we both got two quick fouls in the first couple minutes of the game. So, we played kind of timid on defense and offense. We had to try to buy some time, but after that it was too late. It was just one game, we have another one tomorrow to focus on.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

RE: Clippers offense

“They scored 140 points. They’ve got a really potent offense. They can hurt you inside, they can hurt you outside, and it’s tough to stop both, especially when they’re making shots like that. We just can’t let them be comfortable. We’ve got to make them make tough shots, and can’t let it be easy for them.”

RE: Small lineup

“We’re comfortable going small. It doesn’t really matter to us. That’s what coach decided to do and try and make them matchup to us. We just have to make stops. We played terrible defense.”

RE: Catching up with the Clippers

“It’s tough, especially when you play a team of that caliber. It’s tough to come back. We know we did make some runs, got it down to ten, 11 points. We could never get over that hump. They would always hit a shot. We could never get that stop to get it down to single digits.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

RE: Overall thoughts on tonight’s game

“They got off to a great start. We let them do what they like to do. We didn’t cancel it out. Next time we play them, we will have a better game plan.” 

Pre-game:

Tonight’s game marks the beginning of the Rockets’ LA extravaganza week as Houston prepares for a six-day stretch that will see the team face the Los Angeles Clippers twice and the Lakers once. It goes without saying that each of those contests will attract a fair amount of attention for reasons both relevant and otherwise so let’s attempt to keep the focus on the former while diving into some of the pertinent particulars heading into this evening’s affair with the artists formerly known as the Lob City Monstars (or something to that effect).

- Good news for Houston: Omri Casspi will be back in action tonight. Casspi went through a workout Sunday and was a full participant in this morning’s shootaround. He reported no issues with the sprained left ankle that prevented him from playing Saturday night in Utah, so he’s ready to return to the lineup. That’s obviously big news since he’s been a pivotal piece of the Rockets’ puzzle when the team shifts to its potent and prolific small-ball lineups.

- One of the big keys this evening promises to be how both clubs handle the dirty work on the defensive glass. Both clubs have been excellent attacking the offensive boards in the early going this season, with the Rockets ranked No. 5 in offensive rebound rate and the Clippers coming in at No. 7 (please note: this stat and all others for the time being must be digested with the understanding that all sample sizes are still perilously small at this early juncture). On the defensive glass, however, Houston is 20th and LA a lowly 27th. With as potent as these offenses already are – the Clips currently lead the league in offensive efficiency while Houston is 5th – multiple opportunities to score will likely lead to defensive death.

- Speaking of subjects that might lead to one’s basketball demise, it will be imperative for the Rockets to limit their turnovers and pay extra special attention to their transition defense tonight. Per Synergy Sports, the Clips are 3rd overall in transition offense and, according to NBA.com, they rank No. 1 in points off opponent turnovers per game. Houston, meanwhile, has been bitten badly by the turnover bug in the early going, ranking 28th in the league in turnover rate.

- In the Rockets’ favor, however, is the fact that while they have employed a particularly stout defense so far – Houston ranks No. 4 in defensive efficiency and No. 2 in opponent field goal percentage – the Clippers’ D has been leaky to say the least: Los Angeles enters tonight’s contest with the last-ranked defense in the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions).

- In particular, it will be imperative for the Rockets to take advantage of the Clips when their starting bigs are on the bench getting a breather. Los Angeles’ net rating when Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are off the floor: -22.9 and -8.1 (per 100 possessions), respectively. Put simply, Houston needs to win whenever Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens are getting minutes.

- An infinitely more challenging task for Houston tonight and one that might well be considered Mission Impossible: mitigating the damage caused by Chris Paul. CP3 has been otherworldly to start the season, averaging 27.7 points per game while racking up 12 assists, 4 rebounds and 3.7 steals per contest as well. His PER of 37.66 is the best in the NBA. Patrick Beverley’s dogged and inexhaustible defense will definitely be missed as he’s still sidelined with an injury, but let’s face it: slowing down all-universe players like CP3 requires a total team effort so nothing changes in that regard.

“You’ve got to keep pressure on him,” says Chandler Parsons. You’ve got to have active hands and you can’t sit back on him because that just gives him more space to do what he wants to do. The bigs have to be careful because Griffin and DeAndre will go for alley-oops every single time if they slip behind the bigs. It’s tough because of their personnel but it starts with the ball pressure applied by the point guard who’s defending CP3 to force him in certain directions and to make sure help-side is there and that our bigs are below their bigs so there’s no lobs.”

- Of course, the Rockets have more than a few weapons of their own that the Clippers will be hard-pressed to handle. According to NBA.com’s player tracking data, Jeremy Lin and James Harden enter tonight’s game tied for 2nd in the league in points per game on drives to the basket, averaging 8.3 points per contest in that area (Dallas’ Monta Ellis leads the NBA with an 8.7 average). Lin, in fact, is first overall in drives to the basket per game, averaging 12 a contest, while Harden has been a bit more efficient when attacking the rim thus far, accruing his points on 6.3 drives to the basket per game. Their ability to break down the defense and get to the basket will be key both in terms of potentially getting Jordan into foul trouble and also taking advantage of the Clippers’ interior D when LA’s back-up bigs are in the game.

- Last but not least, here’s the latest number that gives a glimpse into Francisco Garcia’s en fuego start to the season. ‘Cisco enters tonight’s game second in the league in catch-and-shoot points per contest, averaging 10 points per game in that category (Atlanta’s Kyle Korver is No. 1 with 12.7 catch-and-shoot points per game). Garcia is also second overall (again, behind Korver) in catch-and-shoot 3s made per game, averaging 3.3 per contest. Garcia has hit a scintillating 52.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s so far this season.