LOS ANGELES – It started with hacking. It ended with a shellacking.
The Clippers attempted 44 first-half free throws Sunday night as the Rockets intentionally fouled DeAndre Jordan from the start. The hack-a-DJ strategy still resulted in 60 points by halftime for the Clippers, who would go on to outscore the Rockets by 27 points in the second half and take a 3-1 lead in the series with a 128-95 Game 4 win.
“I thought all of us got kind of freaked out by it early, and after that we were fine,” said head coach Doc Rivers, whose message at halftime had nothing to do with the foul situation.
Jordan set an NBA playoff record for free throws in a half with 28 in the first half, finishing with 26 points and 17 rebounds while going 14-of-34 from the line. The Clippers as a team went 37-of-63 from the free-throw line in the game.
But while most people focused on how slow the game became with free throw after free throw, Chris Paul said Rivers’ focus was on defense and the fact that the Clippers only led by six points despite filling up the stat sheet in the first half.
“It’s part of the game,” Paul said. “People talking about should they ban it, no, it’s part of the game. You’re just thinking about, ‘We’ve got to defend.’ That’s one of the biggest things.”
The Clippers responded, allowing just 41 points in the second half.
“It’s a good win,” said Blake Griffin. “In the first half, we didn’t play that well. We were sloppy on defense. We scored 60 points and were only up by six at halftime. The best part of today is how we responded after the half.”
Houston led by two points late in the second quarter when the Clippers closed the first half on a 13-5 run to take a six-point lead into halftime. Then came a third quarter in which the Clippers scored 43 points and outscored the Rockets by 18 points.
The Clippers started the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a double-digit advantage. It didn’t end there, as the Clippers got their lead up to 89-61, starting the third quarter on a 29-7 run.
During that run were three straight dunks from Jordan, as the Rockets stopped fouling during that stretch and the Clippers got out in transition, effectively putting the game away with an exclamation mark in the third quarter. The 24-point advantage after three quarters allowed the Clippers to sit their starters for the majority of the fourth quarter.
Griffin said it can be demoralizing for a team to still be losing at six points at halftime while sending a player to the line as often as the Rockets did.
“For us to kind of maintain our composure, he hit shots, he hit free throws, we got stops, we just grinded it out,” Griffin said.
Griffin finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined for 25 points off the bench. Paul had 15 points and 12 assists in just 25 minutes, with the slow pace helping the starting point guard ease back into action off his strained hamstring.
“I’m sure they’re not fouling to make sure my hamstring feels good,” Paul joked. “If so, I appreciate it, I guess. I’m feeling better. I think that’s all that matters. We’ve just got to stay hungry for the game on Tuesday.”
NOTES: Dwight Howard fouled out early in the fourth quarter, picking up his sixth personal and his second technical of the game …Howard only played 18 minutes with seven points and six rebounds after getting two quick fouls and a technical not even four minutes into the game … Jordan shot more free throws than the Rockets in the game … Jordan and Griffin are the only two players with more than one game with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds during the playoffs … With their 43-point third quarter, the Clippers have scored at least 35 points in a quarter in each of the first four games of the series … Every Clippers starter had a plus-14 net rating or better, while every Rockets starter had worse than a minus-14 net rating … The Clippers have the chance to wrap up the series Tuesday night in Houston …