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Clippers Steal Game 1 In Houston, 117-101

Rowan Kavner

HOUSTON – The odds were stacked against the Clippers, playing on the road without Chris Paul two days after finishing an exhausting seven-game series against the defending champions.

They didn’t seem to care.

The Clippers found themselves ahead by 13 points with four minutes left, getting the lead by forcing the Rockets into bad shots and mistakes while finding the 3-point shot in the second half, as they held on to steal Game 1 on the road Monday night, 117-101.

“This team has shown great resolve and mental toughness, and I feel good about where we are,” said J.J. Redick. “I’ve always felt we’ve had the talent. That mental toughness has been questioned and our resolve has been questioned and at times rightfully so, but we’re on the right track right now.”

It didn’t always look like the beautiful basketball of the first-round series. In Game 7 against the Spurs, the Clippers and Spurs combined for just 22 turnovers. In Game 1 against the Rockets, the teams combined for 47 turnovers, with each team committing at least 23 apiece.

But just like that Game 7 win for the Clippers, the result was all that mattered. They found a way to win without their star point guard, who was held out to allow more time to heal his strained hamstring.

“Without Chris, everybody has to step up,” said Blake Griffin. “It’s not one person’s job, it’s all of our jobs. I think if you look at the stat sheet and look how we played tonight, it was everybody.”

That stat sheet would suggest it was largely Griffin leading that charge.

The power forward continued his phenomenal start to the postseason by posting his third triple-double of the playoffs, finishing with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists.

“We don’t mention injuries,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “We don’t talk about them and we just tell our guys, ‘You execute, step into the role. You execute and you play.’ Our guys did that. I thought our guys had a ton of confidence coming into the game. They knew without Chris it would be different in the way we play, and they accepted that.”

After scoring the first points of the game on a 3-pointer from Austin Rivers, who started for Paul, the Clippers got behind, 4-3, and never led the rest of the first half. But despite getting down by as many as 13 points, going 2-for-15 from 3-point range in the first two quarters, the Clippers managed to cut the deficit to four by the end of the half.

“We all believe in each other,” Austin Rivers said. “It’s amazing. At halftime, our whole focus was, ‘We’re going to win this game.’”

They were able to do that by using the same formula all night, taking advantage of sloppy possessions from the Rockets. The Clippers scored 34 points off Houston’s 24 turnovers in the game.

Then the Clippers’ offense kicked into gear.

The Clippers went 11-for-16 from 3-point range in the second half. Redick, who was scoreless in the first half, went off for 17 points. He said part of getting shots is figuring out how the defense is defending him, which he started to understand as the game went on.

“In the third quarter, I got going a little bit,” Redick said. “As a scorer, once you see one go through, that feels good and it gets you going.”

Matt Barnes followed up his 17-point performance in Game 7 against the Spurs by scoring 20 points against the Rockets. Austin Rivers finished with 17 points, while Jamal Crawford came off the bench to score 21 points.

“It’s going to take some getting used to, but Austin was fantastic tonight,” Redick said. “He really settled in in that second half and played aggressively and looked for his shot.”

The end of the third quarter gave the Clippers all the momentum, as it was just a 78-77 lead with five seconds remaining in the quarter. That’s when Crawford banked in a 3-pointer, which was followed by a foul under the basket by James Harden, which sent Redick to the line for two shots, as he proceeded to give the Clippers a six point lead.

The Clippers wouldn’t relinquish that lead, leading the entire fourth quarter to grab Game 1 in Houston.

“The bottom line is it’s a win,” Redick said, “and we need three more.”

NOTES: The Clippers outscored the Rockets by 10 points in both the third and fourth quarters … The Clippers scored 71 points in the second half … The Clippers tied an NBA playoff record with their 11 3-pointers in the second half … James Harden scored 20 points and dished out 12 assists … Barnes and Austin Rivers had four steals apiece … Both teams finished with 14 steals … Both teams led by double digits in the game … The Clippers led by as many as 18 points in the win to take a 1-0 series lead … Chris Paul didn’t play, but he was on the bench coaching players. “He was great,” said Doc Rivers. “The funniest thing was after the game he said, ‘I’ve never sweated so much in my life.’”

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