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Sunday March 4, 2012 11:36 PM

Clips Edge Rockets In OT

Chris Paul powers Clippers to 105-103 overtime victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - It’s nothing new to wax poetic about Chris Paul’s skill or to stand in awe of the way he can control the game from the point guard position. Nonetheless, in retrospect there did seem to be a certain prescience to Kevin McHale’s pregame meeting with the press Sunday evening during which he spent the vast majority of his time talking about Paul and the exhilaration that occurs when an NBA player’s mental mastery of the game roughly coincides with said player’s physical peak.

The Clippers’ guard has ascended to the level of on-court maestro, orchestrating nearly everything his team does with a range of movements so subtle and so deft they at times border on unnoticeable. The end results of his maneuverings, however, are anything but. And unfortunately for McHale and the rest of the Rockets, CP3 brought just enough brilliance to Sunday’s proceedings to help his club sneak past Houston in heartbreaking fashion, as the Clippers prevailed 105-103 in overtime.

Paul’s performance (28 points, 10 assists, and a hand in nearly every good the Clippers did come crunch time) ruined a night that saw all five Rockets reach double figures in scoring and a herculean effort on both sides of the ball from Courtney Lee off the Houston bench. Samuel Dalembert had his best game in weeks with 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Houston hit 50 percent (10-20) of its 3-point attempts while matching the Lob City Clippers with 42 points in the paint. Blake Griffin spent significant portions of the night as a non-factor. And perhaps most importantly, after criticizing themselves for two straight games of substandard effort, the Rockets’ focus and intensity were right back where they needed to be.

Little surprise, then, that Houston’s players and coaches took this defeat so hard. To have all of those things in their favor and still suffer a devastating defeat was surely nothing short of excruciating – especially given the way it ended.

The game was a nip-and-tuck affair throughout, featuring 20 ties and a whopping 24 lead changes. As is always the case in such contests, there were dozens of plays that could have reversed the outcome; careless turnovers, missed free throws, different calls, bad break bounces and the like.

Yet most of the focus – fair or not – will surely fall to the Rockets’ final possession, a play that came with four seconds left and Houston down a pair after Paul had made just one of two free throws at the line. Kevin Martin received the inbounds pass and found himself isolated at the wing with Los Angeles’ Mo Williams defending him. Martin rose up in rhythm off the dribble and launched a 3-pointer that looked good the moment it left his hand. It hit the back rim and bounced out. A Dalembert desperation heave at the buzzer came up empty as well. So instead of celebrating a heart pounding, losing streak stopping victory in front of an electric Toyota Center crowd, the Rockets were left to lament a loss that leaves them departing Houston for a 5-game road trip with a three-game losing streak nipping at their heels.

“That was a glimpse of how the night went for me shooting-wise,” said Martin, who hit just six of his 22 shots, but still scored 25 points and handed out a career high-tying eight assists. “The shot was off about a centimeter, which resulted in a missed shot, which resulted in a loss. I was just going to do whatever the defense gave me and I felt like the dribble 3 was there and everything felt good about it.

“Both teams were playing well – that’s why it hurts the most. We’ve been harping over coming out and setting a tone effort-wise, and we did everything right tonight except for one thing.”

That’s not entirely true, of course. Martin may beat himself up for missing that final shot, but dissecting the real reasons a game is won or lost is never as simple as that. The Rockets did a lot of things right Sunday night, but there were plenty of other areas they still need to shore up as well. They’ll no doubt address those during Monday’s practice prior to departing for Boston. And chances are, when they turn on the video and begin to analyze what went awry, they’ll see not just their own miscues, but also the magnificent genius of a player at the peak of his powers.

Chris Paul stole one from the Rockets Sunday night. You don’t have to like it. And you most definitely shouldn’t accept it. But there’s nothing wrong with tipping your cap and acknowledging the otherworldly gifts he displayed – while simultaneously vowing to do everything possible to return the favor the next time you meet.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(things that could have been done differently to defend CP3?): Probably. When he has the ball in his hands he does a lot of stuff. We tried changing up and I thought Courtney did a really nice job on him one-on-one a couple times. They set picks, they roll – he’s got the ball in his hands a lot and he’s very, very clever. We tried to change up stuff on him and give him a lot of different looks, but bottom line is he made a lot of plays.

We had our chances all night long in that game and we just didn’t get the job done. That out of bounds play where they got a steal off it should never happen … We had some opportunities, we just didn’t take advantage … I was pleased with our effort …. But when you have a team like that on the ropes, you just can’t have any mistakes and we gave away a couple down the stretch and it hurt us.

(On the last play to score 3 points) “We were trying to get it to him (Kevin Martin) but they pushed us out a little bit and we tried to get something going down that left side. They (Clippers) just pushed us out a bit and that's the shot that we got.”

(On playing Courtney Lee instead of Chandler Parsons) “I thought that Courtney (Lee) was doing a really nice job defensively and I thought that it was important to get Courtney out there so he could guard Chris Paul and then either take Kyle (Lowry) or Kevin (Martin). So he (Courtney Lee) played very well and I thought he made a couple of big shots for us and did a nice job defensively.”

(On Samuel Dalembert) “Sam played well. Sam was out there. He was active. He was blocking shots. He had 12 rebounds. He inbounded the ball well. We had our chances in that game tonight so I'm not disappointed in our effort. I just wish that when you have a team like that and you've got them on their ropes, you can't have any mistakes and we had a couple down the stretch, and it hurt us.”

KEVIN MARTIN

(on his final missed shot): That was a glimpse of how the night went for me shooting-wise. The shot was off about a centimeter, which resulted into a missed shot, which resulted into a loss.

I was just going to do whatever the defense gave me and I felt like the dribble 3 was there and everything felt good about it.

Both teams were playing well – that’s why it hurts the most. We’ve been harping over coming out and setting a tone effort-wise yesterday at practice, and we did everything right tonight except for one thing.

KYLE LOWRY

Every little things sticks out. I missed free throws, Kevin’s last 3 didn’t go in; I mean everything is going to stick out because it’s such a close loss. If one of those things had gone, it would have turned a different way.

COURTNEY LEE

(On his play down the stretch) “It was just crunch time. You have to make plays to help your team to be in the position to win the game. When they made the switch, I just went out there and focused to try and get a stop to make sure we didn't give them a second chance opportunity on offensive rebounds. Samuel (Dalembert) did a good job with that. So I tried to focus on that and make sure we got the stop.”

(On McHale's confidence in him in guarding Chris Paul) “Yeah, that says a lot. It shows that he has confidence in me to make that decision and make that move. So, definitely (that McHale had confidence in him).”

SAMUEL DALEMBERT

(On scoring 17 points) “My offense is predicated on how all of the players are playing. My job is to put myself in a better situation, a position to receive the ball and finish. I think today the guys did a really good job looking out for me and I was delivering.”

(On the game being extremely close) “It was one of those games. Calls were called and things were happening. It was one of those grinding games. Both teams were out there playing hard and the game was tight the whole way. Things weren't falling for us and at the end that's what happened.”

L.A. CLIPPERS COACH VINNY DEL NEGRO

(On the game) “Our performance was fine. We played hard and we had to grind the game out. The Rockets made some shots and our guys battled and came off the bench and did a good job. We had a lot of guys step up and make plays. All the little plays ended up being big plays. I was pleased with the win and we gutted it out tonight.”

(On the Rockets and their play) “Houston was at home and they came out ready to play and have a very good team and have had a good year. We knew it was going to be a tough fight and it was. My guys stayed with it and I was pleased with the effort. It wasn’t pretty all the time but we made enough plays.”

CHRIS PAUL

(On his play) “I pulled back twice on Courtney (Lee) and I was taking a bad angle and I figured I had to stop pulling back and I had to take it to the basket.”

(On the play against Lowry…did he feel Lowery flopped) “I really don’t know, but guys tend to flop every time I do that move. I might have bumped him.”

(On his 4th quarter in overtime play) “I didn’t even get a shot. And I also missed a free throw. When we came out of the time tied, I wanted the ball. Only thing I kept thinking about after regulation was who at home was watching league pass and calling me a dummy. That’s what I do when I’m watching games and I see a guy not even get a shot up at the end of regulation. The guys at home were saying, ‘This dummy didn’t even get a shot up.’ I was calling myself a dummy and you can ask the guys on our bench that.”

DeANDRE JORDAN

(On the game) “We played them before so they obviously watched a lot of tape. We played them earlier in the season and they had time to scout and they were definitely ready this time. It was a great battle tonight. We let one slip away from us the last game and we knew we had to get this one. We need to continue to get wins on this road trip.”

KENYON MARTIN

(On the team’s play) “The effort has been there. Our guys are learning and we are we are trying to teach them each and every possession. You have to learn what guy’s tendencies are. You try to do the best of your ability to try and take those things away and make them go to their second option.”

NOTES

The Rockets fell 105-103 to the Clippers in overtime tonight, dropping consecutive games at home for the first time this season. Houston also suffered a 117-105 loss vs. Denver (3/2/12). The Rockets moved to 2-2 in OT this season.

Houston has now been outrebounded in a season-long 10 straight contests (2/14/12-3/4/12). The last time that occurred was a 10-game run back in 1982-83 (3/29/83-4/15/83).

The Rockets, who were 10-of-29 (.345) from beyond the arc vs. Denver (3/2/12), hit another 10-of-20 (.500) from downtown tonight.

Houston placed all five starters in double-figure scoring for the second time this season (other: 1/13/12 vs. Sacramento).

Kevin Martin led the Rockets with 25 points (6-22 FG, 3-9 3FG, 10-10 FT) tonight and a career-high-tying eight assists (eight on 3/8/09 vs. Denver and eight on 1/16/12 at Washington). Martin has also been perfect at the line with 10 or more attempts in 12 games with the Rockets, which matches Yao Ming (12) for the most by a Houston player since 1985-86.

Samuel Dalembert posted 17 points (8-14 FG), 12 rebounds and three blocks tonight. The Rockets now hold a record of 7-3 this season when Dalembert reaches double-figure scoring. Overall, Dalembert has notched five double-doubles on the season and a team-high 12 double-digit rebounding games.

Luis Scola registered 16 points (6-11 FG) and 12 boards tonight, which gives him a double-double in four of the last five games.

Kyle Lowry totaled 14 points (5-11 FG, 2-3 3FG), five rebounds and two assists tonight. Lowry now has 10 or more points in each of his last 15 outings (2/4/12-3/4/12).

Courtney Lee added 13 points (5-6 FG) off the bench tonight, including a 3-for-3 night from 3-point range. Lee also had a 4-for-4 performance from beyond the arc vs. Minnesota (2/17/12).

Chris Paul topped the Clippers with 28 points (10-22 FG, 8-10 FT) and 10 assists tonight. Paul now has at least a point-assist double-double in 12 of his last 17 games played against the Rockets dating back to the 2006-07 campaign. Paul actually netted 22 of his points in the second half and OT. In the prior seven games, Paul scored 59.1 percent of all of his points in the second half.

Blake Griffin, who notched a game-high 22 points (10-15 FG) to go with nine boards against the Rockets at Los Angeles (1/4/12), had 14 points (5-14 FG) and 11 rebounds tonight. Griffin had a double-double in all four meetings with the Rockets last season.

DeAndre Jordan, who is a native of Bellaire, TX, notched his 14th double-digit rebounding game of the season with 11 boards tonight.

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