Rockets Get Clipped In Lob City Once Aagin
LOS ANGELES, CA - Funny thing about the NBA: 46-point quarters tend to be pretty tough to overcome.
The Los Angeles Clippers put on a first quarter shooting display for the ages Wednesday night and never looked back, shooting 77 percent in the opening period on their way to posting that eye-popping ‘46’ number before ultimately coasting to a 106-96 win over the Rockets.
The loss sent Houston into the All-Star break with a temporarily bitter taste in its mouth, but one which should dissipate as soon as the club is able to take a collective deep breath and refocus on the big picture that sees the Rockets in a position few would have imagined when the start of the season began. 29-26 and smack dab in the thick of the Western Conference playoffs race? That’s quite a coup given the Rockets’ status as the youngest team in the NBA.
That was small consolation Wednesday night, however, as Houston was outgunned and undermanned right from the opening tip. The bad news began when James Harden was ruled out about 30 minutes prior to tip-off due to the sprained right ankle he had suffered the night before against Golden State; this after all indications leading up to the game pointed to Harden playing – his name, in fact, had even been submitted to the official scorer as a starter about an hour before tip time. But after going through his standard warm-up routine, Harden felt soreness in his tender right ankle so he was held out for precautionary reasons.
His absence was certainly felt throughout the contest, though the Rockets experienced little trouble replacing his scoring prowess in the early going. What they could not do, however, was offer up any sort of resistance to the Clippers’ high-flying, rim-rattling attack. Lob City was in full effect in the first quarter as both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan took turns elevating such that their heads soared above the rim while finding themselves on the receiving end of passes from all-world point guard Chris Paul. And when the Clippers weren’t throwing down vicious, violent jams, they were dropping bombs from long range. Los Angeles went 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the first period, with Caron Butler draining three of those on his way to racking up 17 points in the frame. When the quarter mercifully came to an end, the Clippers owned a 46-28 lead, leaving the Rockets in the unenviable position of having to stage a massive rally on the road against an elite team, all while without the services of their best player.
“We didn’t come out ready to play at the start of the game,” lamented Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. “We had no pressure on the ball. They were comfortable; it was like they were playing H-O-R-S-E. We had no presence defensively. We were really bad.
“We didn’t recover from the start of the game. They got way out on us then we had opportunities to make it a tighter game and we missed layups and had turnovers and we just could never catch up.”
Indeed, Houston did have several chances to make a game of it in the aftermath of that disastrous first quarter. In fact, the Rockets had reduced their deficit to 11 with 2:30 left in the second period and were only a strong close to the quarter away from being back within striking distance. It was then, as if sensing the importance of that very moment, that Chris Paul asserted his dominance once again and less that two minutes later the Clippers’ lead had been restored to 20. Houston never truly threatened again.
“Obviously tonight was a setback. It’s frustrating,” said Chandler Parsons, who finished with a team-high 17 points but also five turnovers. “It felt like a miserable performance and we’re better than that. We’re in a good spot right now (record-wise) but we have to win more games and we have to compete better with the elite teams.”
And-1s: Jeremy Lin took a nasty spill in the second quarter when he landed hard after taking flight for a fast break layup attempt. His right hand was sore after the fall but x-rays taken after the game turned out to be negative, revealing just a bruise.
Finally, though silver linings were not exactly in abundance Wednesday night from a Houston perspective, Rockets rookie Donatas Motiejunas most definitely made the most of his 16 minutes of action, recording a career-high 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting during that span. Motiejunas displayed his touch and footwork in the low-post while sinking a pair of jump hooks, and also showed off his rare speed for his size by flying down the floor to punctuate a Rockets’ fast break with a powerful slam.
The rookie from Lithuania eats, sleeps and breathes basketball. He makes no secret of his desire to be great, and he backs up that yearning with the sort of insatiable work ethic necessary to make that dream a reality. Make no mistake: Motiejunas has a long way to go to get there and he knows it. He needs to get stronger. He must become more of a presence on the glass and defensively. But Wednesday’s performance gave glimpses of the potential he possesses, and for Motiejunas those minutes – and what he did with them – were plenty meaningful.
“It just shows how hungry I am, how much I want to play basketball,” said Motiejunas. “To be honest, I did not expect to play so much so I didn’t really have a chance to get nervous. My teammates found me, I got a couple free throws, made a couple easy baskets, got in the game flow and after that it’s easy to play.
“That’s what I’m preparing for every single day. That’s why I’m here. Every single day I prepare myself to take over someone’s spot. That’s how it is. If you don’t fight for your spot, someone will push you out. So I’m the guy who’s trying to push out someone. As a team we are friends; I support each of these guys. But as a competitor I want to take their spot. I want playing time. That’s NBA, that’s how tricky it is. You have to support but at the same time be competitive with them.”
We didn’t come out ready to play at the start of the game. We had no pressure on the ball. They were comfortable; it was like they were playing H-O-R-S-E. We had no presence defensively. We were really bad.
We don’t win when we don’t defend. I’m not saying that we’re the best defensive team in the league but when we get stops and get out and run that’s when we’re effective. We have to get stops, get a few steals thrown in there and stuff. We didn’t recover from the start of the game. They got way out on us then we had opportunities to make it a tighter game and we missed layups and had turnovers and we just could never catch up.
Obviously tonight was a setback. It’s frustrating. Any time you give up 46 points in a quarter – I don’t know if that’s ever even happened. But we’ve got to come back and play. We can’t afford to have quarters like that, especially against a team the caliber of the Clippers. It’s hard to win a game when you give up 46 points in a quarter and get off to a bad start like that. It all starts on the defensive end and we didn’t do that tonight.
(on being 29-26 at the All-Star break)
After tonight, it felt like a miserable performance and we’re better than that. We’re in a good spot right now but we have to win more games and we have to compete better with the elite teams.
They hit everything and they were on fire and we didn’t do a good job of making it difficult. Once they got in a rhythm, at least in the first quarter, it just kind of snowballed.
(on the wrist injury after his fall in the second quarter)
I have to go get x-rays but I think it’s fine. It just hurts. That’s just part of the game. We saw it yesterday with James spraining his ankle and playing on a hurt knee, so we’re going to definitely use this rest.
(On being 29-26 at the All-Star break)
We’re ahead of where we thought we were going to be but after seeing the potential of our team, we still feel like we’re underachieving in some sense. I think the second half, we want to make sure we make a push at some point and really get back to putting a string of wins together.
(feel better about heading to the break having gotten some quality minutes?)
It helps a lot. It just shows how hungry I am, how much I want to play basketball. Just try to help the team as much as possible – that’s my goal. I can control some things so I try to control my attitude, my work ethic and how hard I can work – that’s the things I can control and those are the things I try to control.
To be honest, I did not expect to play so much so I didn’t really have a chance to get nervous. My teammates found me, I got a couple free throws, made a couple easy baskets, got in the game flow and after that it’s easy to play.
(increased comfort level now in practice and games?)
Yeah, of course. That’s what I’m preparing for every single day. That’s why I’m here. Every single day I prepare myself to take over someone’s spot. That’s how it is. If you don’t fight for your spot, someone will push you out. So I’m the guy who’s trying to push out someone. As a team we are friends; I support each of these guys. But as a competitor I want to take their spot. I want playing time. That’s NBA, that’s how tricky it is. You have to support but at the same time be competitive with them.
CLIPPERS HEAD COACH VINNY DEL NEGRO
RE: Overall thoughts on tonight’s game
“Well we obviously got out to a nice start. It was a big first quarter for us. I thought that we jumped on them early. Chauncey [Billups] hits some great shots. He was hot early. Caron [Butler] really got us off to a good start and did a good job defensively which was good to see. We got sluggish in the second half. I think we played to score a little bit too much. The Rockets competed at a high level. We went to Blake [Griffin] when we needed to in the post to make plays for us. I think that we guarded the three ball a little bit better tonight. We made them take some tough shots over our length up front. It was a good win after a long road trip and with the back-to-back tomorrow night.”
RE: Tempo of the Game
“[The Rockets] wanted to speed the game up. The game was obviously a little faster in the first quarter. We were making shots and they made some runs at us, but we were shooting the three ball well. Caron [Butler] made some big shots. We picked our tempo pretty well at times tonight. We had way too many turnovers in the second half. That is why they kept making runs at us. I don’t think that our second group was very good tonight. I didn’t like our bench energy, from anybody really. I thought our starters did a great job.”
RE: Fatigue Factor
“There was not [any fatigue factor] in the first quarter. Maybe as the game went on, but I just wasn’t pleased with our second unit’s energy. I don’t think they had any sense of urgency guarding. We relied a lot of the starters and their energy.”
RE: The Play of the Starting Unit
“It’s a long season. You get on runs a little bit, matchups, health, and certain guys in and out of the lineup. We just have to find a way to be as consistent as possible with both groups. We managed the minutes pretty well tonight which is good with the back-to-back tomorrow. We controlled the tempo of the game pretty well for most of it which kept [Houston] down. They didn’t have [James] Harden in to score so that changed some of the thing that we worked on. But overall we got the win; we kept them on their heels and controlled the game.
RE: The Play of the Second Unit
“Offensively we weren’t sharp with our cuts, screens and ball movement. We got lost sometimes on some transitions. That was disappointing, but we’ll take it after a long road trip.”
RE: The Play Chauncey Billups
“He takes pressure off of everybody. He can get Chris [Paul] off of the ball a bit. He spaces the court. He knows time and score. When he’s shooting like he was tonight, it gives us another weapon. It was great to see him out there. He knows how to play. He’s been there, done that and it’s great to have him back. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and we’ll make a decision on his availability.”
RE: Tomorrow’s Game vs. the Lakers
“[The Lakers] are obviously a different team without Pau [Gasol], but they cause problems with Kobe [Bryant]’s isolation. It’s their home game, but we’re going to be ready to compete. It will come down to making plays and adjustments where we need to.”
CLIPPERS GUARD JAMAL CRAWFORD
RE: What the team did well
“We were able to get stops, get easy baskets, get out in transition and that’s where we’re at our best.”
RE: Coming out with 46 points in the first quarter
“It’s usually the first game back after a long trip that’s the hardest. But for us, we hit the ground running and created the momentum to win.”
RE: Playing the Lakers tomorrow night
“It should be fun. It’s always fun playing against them. They’re playing better for sure. They’re on track. It will be a fun game for the fans.”
CLIPPERS GUARD CHRIS PAUL
RE: Play of the Houston Rockets
“That’s a team, the way they play, they’re never out of the game. They play fast, they throw the ball up the court, they shoot a lot of threes and they’re always going to be in every game. I watched their game last night against Golden State and that’s what they did. They play fast and they shoot a lot of threes.”
RE: Team’s play in the first quarter
“I think the biggest thing is we were letting our defense create our offense. We’re just as tough in transition. We were getting stops and we were scoring, making shots. Chauncey [Billups] got it going early for us making shots, and we were getting stops.”
RE: Team’s 46-point first quarter
“We gave up 28. So 46 is all good and well, but you don’t want to give up 28 point in a quarter.”
RE: Play of Chauncey Billups
“Chauncey gives me an opportunity to get off the ball. I can go to the elbow and iso and let him come off the ball screen. He’s an orchestrator every now and then in order to get the ball back to me, instead of me orchestrating to get it back to me. It’s pretty nice to have him out there.”
CLIPPERS FORWARD BLAKE GRIFFIN
RE: Team’s first quarter performance
“We were moving the ball well. Guys were getting shots. We played pretty good defense. Everything was kind of going for us. But we have to do a better job of not letting up through the neoxt three quarters.”
RE: Play of Chauncey Billups
“He’s a calming presence on the floor. He’s always in control it seems like, making the right decisions and hitting big shots obviously. When he’s out there it kind of gives a different dynamic and gives us somebody that you can’t leave him open. He’s going to knock down a shot. He’s another smart player and another option we have now.”
RE: Takeaways from tonight’s game
“We need to do a better job because against other teams we’re not going to be so fortunate to have as many turnovers as we did throughout the rest of the game and still be able to be on top. We have to make sure that we really put teams away.”