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Game Day: Rockets vs. Clippers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 118-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

If there’s such a thing as a quarter that sees a team lose every bit of its 15-point lead but still somehow manages to leave feeling as if it “escaped” a fate that could have been far worse, the Rockets likely experienced that phenomenon firsthand tonight.

Oh, the game began brightly enough from a Houston standpoint as the club appeared inspired early despite dealing with the injury issues of both Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley. With James Harden leading the way, the Rockets built a 10-point bulge by the end of the first quarter as the club’s superstar guard delivered 9 points and 6 assists (and 3 turnovers) in the period. Houston hit more than 56 percent of its shots from the field and absolutely dominated the paint, outscoring Los Angeles by a 20-8 margin in that area.

Chandler Parsons also enjoyed his long awaited breakout performance, racking up a team-high 11 points in the opening period, before hitting halftime with 18; this, after the third-year forward had not hit the 20-point plateau since February 20 – a stretch spanning 16 games. And Parsons’ early contributions were hardly limited to the offensive end; he also began the game drawing the assignment of defending Chris Paul, and his length really seemed to bother the Clippers’ all-world point guard during Houston’s hard shows on the pick-and-roll. In fact, it took Paul more than eight minutes to record his first assist of the game, and that dime came when another Rockets player found himself guarding CP3.

PHOTO GALLERY

As if the picture couldn’t be any rosier from a Rockets’ perspective, the respective injury woes appeared to even out somewhat when Los Angeles’ other All-Star, Blake Griffin, was forced to leave the game for good with back spasms late in the first quarter. The Rockets would be the last team to derive joy from such a scenario right now given what they’re currently going through, but Griffin’s absence certainly figured to give Houston even more hope that its big lead would prove long-lasting. When the Rockets began the second quarter by extending its advantage to 15 early in the second quarter, that theory seemed even more rock solid.

And then Chris Paul happened. CP3 absolutely erupted and seized the contest by the throat, at one point scoring 10 straight Los Angeles points as part of a stunning 36-14 run that put the Clippers up by 7. It was a remarkable turn and Paul was at the center of it all, conducting the game and dictating the tempo no differently than if he had a baton, rather than a basketball, in his hands.

So why would Houston feel at least a little bit fortunate at halftime? Well, the Rockets dodged a bullet in the final minute of the proceedings, with the Clippers fumbling away an easy fast break opportunity which allowed Houston to close the quarter with a 4-0 run and trim its deficit to just three in the process. Yes the ride was enough to give fans a case of the basketball bends, but the end result was far from untenable.

- One of the biggest reasons for the Rockets’ reversal of fortunes in the first half: Houston turned the ball over just once in the first six minutes of the game. By halftime, however, that number had ballooned to 13.

Also not helping matters for Houston: the fact that Terrence Jones wasn’t even able to stay on the court for seven minutes without picking up three fouls, rendering him a non-factor through the first two quarters of play.

- Isaiah Canaan eclipsed his career-high for scoring (5 points prior to tonight) early in the first half after draining a pair of triples during his opening stint on the floor. The rookie had some issues with turnovers – as did several of his teammates, obviously, but he otherwise acquitted himself quite well during his first game as the club’s backup point guard in the wake of the Beverley injury.

One thing we know with 100 percent certainty that the kid can do: Canaan can shoot the heck out of the ball. The Clippers found that out the hard way after going under screens – and getting burned doing so – in the first half. His final line: 14 points, four boards, three assists and four turnovers during a little more than 20 minutes of action.

- For all the considerable star power tonight’s contest lacked due to all the injuries, this was still a ridiculously fun, if ultimately frustrating, night of basketball. Watching Houston’s CP (Parsons finished with 28 points and 9 rebounds) and the Clips’ CP3 deliver one monster play after another – frequently while going toe-to-toe and engaging in a little back-and-forth jawing – was awesome. Harden (32 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 turnovers) and noted Rockets-killer Jamal Crawford each took turns landing body blows and the occasional haymaker as well. No, all the turnovers, missed free throws (especially on the Clippers’ end) and bricked 3s (by both teams) didn't add to the overall aesthetic, but it certainly didn’t diminish the drama. During certain stretches of the third and fourth quarters, the intensity level unquestionably reached postseason pitch.

In the end, however, Paul produced more than enough solar wattage to carry the day. It’s been forgotten by many now, but prior to his shoulder injury earlier this season, CP3 was playing at an MVP level, and he certainly flashed that form tonight en route to tallying 30 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals while lifting his club to an impressive 118-107 victory over a Rockets team that had entered tonight’s contest having won 11 straight at home. This was his night - an all too familiar refrain for the Rockets, who have now lost nine of 10 against the Clippers since Paul's arrival and the formation of Lob City.

- With its loss, Houston drops to 49-23 on the season and slips two games behind the Clippers in the race for the Western Conference’s 3-seed (and LA, of course, also owns the tiebreaker). Up next: the Rockets hit the road for a quick, two-game trip that begins Tuesday in Brooklyn before wrapping up their journey the next night in Toronto.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On the end of the 3rd quarter and beginning of the fourth) “After the first quarter we kind of struggled moving the ball. We didn't have good ball movement. We didn't have good body movement. We couldn't sustain anything offensively. They switched and we didn't do what we had to done earlier which was attacking with the ball and we got really stagnant. That's as bad as we've been, stagnant-wise and ball movement-wise, in a long time.”

(On Isaiah Canaan's play) “He made a couple of 3s. He tried to drive. He tried to do some stuff. He had some silly turnovers but the whole team (had too many turnovers). That's nineteen turnovers too many. He's going to get some time so he's going to have to grow and get better.”

(On Clippers defensive strategy) “They (Clippers) switched. We jumbled up on the ball. We didn't space. We stood. We didn't help each other with cutting and moving and it just became a one on one game. We're not a good one on one team. James (Harden) can break his guy down but other than that we are a good ball movement, body movement team. They just switched everything and guys started chasing the ball. Our spacing was  bad. We just played very out of character. Guys got flustered I guess. We did not play well. Give them credit, they've had our number. We've had a hard time with those guys.”

(On Chris Paul's play and Clippers offense) “When their top guy has 30 points and 12 assists, you're going to get in trouble. You've got to make him score and not get the assist or make him get a lot of assists. He did everything. He just went wherever he wanted with the ball. We were not sharp. When we did switch on him, we laid off. We looked at him and dared him to shoot. We did a good job early of trying to take DeAndre Jordan's roles out but they kept going off pick and roll and then he finds people. He's (Chris Paul) a hell of a guard.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the Rockets being out of sync offensively) “We've got to do a much better job when they switch. We knew they were going to do that going into the game and when they switch sometimes it's best to get off the ball and space the floor and make them help instead of just dribbling the ball. We had, like, 14 assists tonight so nothing really came easy. That's not our style. We've got to pass the ball and make plays for others and we really didn't do that tonight with 14 assists and I don't know how many turnovers.”

(On whether or not there's an adjustment to be made when the lineups change) “No. You can't use that as an excuse. Everybody goes through injuries. They didn't have their best player either. He (Blake Griffin) played six minutes. It's part of it. We have to learn to win games without guys and hope they can get back as soon as possible.”

ISAIAH CANAAN

(On Chris Paul) “He does a great job of leading his team. Everybody on his team respects him and believes in what he sees out there. He does a good job of getting everybody in their spots and he makes plays for them.”

(On his increased minutes tonight) “It felt good. As a player you always dream of moments like that. I just wanted to do whatever I could to try to help the team win and pick up the slack that we were going to be missing with Pat Beverley out. I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could and try to help the team.”

JEREMY LIN

(On what point things start to go badly for the Rockets) “Probably at the end of the second quarter and sometime in the second half as well of us just not getting stops (defensively).”

(On the Rockets problems offensively) “I think we didn't space as well. Stuff dried up and maybe we should have moved the ball a little more and should have played with a little more flow as a team.”

(on Isaiah Canaan)

I thought he did great. I thought he played above and beyond expectations. That shows a lot about him and his hard work, coming in and doing what he did in a critical game during the season. I can’t say enough about how well he played tonight. He played hard and that’s what we need.

(on his own play)

Yeah, I was pretty frustrated. I didn’t play well at all. It’s not the best feeling to know that in such a big game with so much responsibility I didn’t do what the team needed me to do. That’s on me and I just have to move on to the next one and get ready for Brooklyn. But credit to them: they made it tough and I didn’t hit shots or do much of anything tonight.

L.A. CLIPPERS COACH DOC RIVERS

(On his team overcoming adversity) “I don’t know, but it was really good. That was good stuff for us tonight. Blake (Griffin) goes down, Jamal (Crawford) going in and out and that stuff is good for us. We don’t want it, any of it, but when it happens, and Houston jumped on us and got on us quick and spread the floor. We had to make a defensive adjustment. “Ty Lue” (Tyronne Lue, Assistant Coach) thought we should switch and we did and it was a great switch by us and it changed the momentum.”

(On Blake Griffin’s prognosis) “Back spasms, day-to-day. I’m sure they’re going to do whatever they do with x-rays and all that stuff, so we’ll see.”

(On what happened with Glen Davis) “Nothing went on with me. I just thought ‘Baby’ was too emotional and for me if you’re too emotional, I always send you back to the locker room and keep you back there until the next game. I love ‘Baby,’ but I didn’t think emotionally he was ready to play tonight, so we told him to go to the locker room. For me, it’s all about emotional hijacks and if you have one, you go to the back. We’ve talked about that as a group, and I didn’t make a big deal about it or address it at halftime. We needed him tonight, but he wasn’t here.”

(On what the win says about his team) “It’s good. Our guys knew what was going on. The injuries were a big deal. Houston had so many line ups. The biggest distraction for me was trying to figure out defensively what to do with all the lineups that Kevin put out on the floor. What it says about us is that we are here to win games and that our guys are growing up and maturing and that was a great win.”

DeANDRE JORDAN

(On the game) “I think this shows our maturity as a team, as a unit. We’ve been through a lot adversity this year with players going down, a new system, a new coach, but I think this shows how everybody steps up when guys go down. When one of our All-Stars went down, everybody else had to step up.”

(On team overcoming the adversity) “We just know how to cover for each other. I feel like everyone on this team is a pro and when I say that I mean Willie Green goes ten games without playing and then tonight and Ryan Hollins is the same way and they were both ready to play. I really commend those guys for being ready at all times.”

CHRIS PAUL

(On the game) “The last few games have been playoff type games. It was real emotional. When Blake went down, it was a big loss for us and we had to step up. It’s like all season long we’ve had guys go down and now with Blake, our guys are ready.”

(On what clicked for him when he got rolling) “We just picked up the tempo a little bit and made a few shots. I was just trying to feel the game out a little bit.”

(On the team’s play) “I’ve never been on a team like this before. I think a lot of teams when a guy goes down, they start looking for excuses and I’ve been on teams like that. Our team is like alright next man stand up and they know what to do.”

(On DeAndre Jordan) “”DJ” was amazing. It was a nice game for him coming back to Houston and playing like that. He’s been like that all season. His energy is unreal. He puts so much pressure on the defense with the way he rolls and goes after the rebound. Defensive Player of the Year if you ask me.”

JAMAL CRAWFORD

(On losing Blake Griffin) “It’s tough and hopefully he’ll be okay. It’s like we’re trying to get guys healthy and then somebody else goes out. We have to weather the storm and hope to get him back as soon as possible.”

(On his injury) “I’ll be alright. I think I came back on the twenty second or the twenty third and I left in the twenty sixth and it’s going to take me a while to get back in form. It’s just frustrating because I know I have to go through it. I’ve never taken that much time off since back in 2007. I’ll be alright.” 

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,337 tonight. Overall, it gives the Rockets 34 sellouts on the season, extending the new single-season record for Toyota Center (prev. best: 28 sellouts in 2007-08).

The Clippers took a 118-107 decision tonight, sweeping all four games with the Rockets this season. Houston actually led by as much as 15 points tonight. Each team held and lost a double-digit lead in the second meeting at Houston (11/9/13), with the Rockets overcoming a 10-point deficit to take a 13-point lead in the second quarter.

Houston saw its home winning streak snapped at 11 in a row (1/28/14-3/27/14).

The Rockets went 36-of-45 (.800) from the stripe tonight, losing for just the fourth time this season when attempting 35 or more free throws in a game (Rockets record: 20-4).

The Clippers became the first team this season to record at least 25 assists, 10 steals and 10 blocks in a game against the Rockets. Overall, it marks the second time in 2013-14 that the Clippers have accomplished such a feat. The Clippers also had 31 assists, 13 thefts and 10 blocks in a recent 112-103 win vs. Detroit (3/22/14).

James Harden finished with 32 points (9-22 FG, 11-13 FT), seven rebounds and six assists tonight, recording the top scoring game of his career against the Clippers. Harden’s previous best was 23 points (8-20 FG, 5-6 FT) last season vs. the Clippers (1/15/13).

Chandler Parsons recorded 28 points (9-19 FG, 9-11 FT) and nine boards tonight, which gave him 20-plus points on 18 occasions this season. Parsons also topped the Rockets with 23 points (9-15 FG, 2-5 3FG) and eight rebounds in the last home meeting vs. the L.A. Clippers (11/9/13).

Omer Asik posted his second double-double of the season with 12 points (5-9 FG) and 11 boards. Including tonight, four of Asik’s six double-figure rebounding games this season have come with him in the starting lineup.

Rookie Isaiah Canaan came off the bench with career bests of 14 points (3-5 FG, 2-4 3FG, 6-8 FT), four rebounds and three assists in 20:29 of action.

Chris Paul was one of three Clippers to reach at least 20 points tonight, topping his team with 30 points (10-16 FG, 5-9 3FG), 12 assists and three steals. His 17-point second quarter also helped fuel Los Angeles’ comeback tonight.

DeAndre Jordan recorded 20 points (7-10 FG, 6-14 FT), 12 rebounds and six blocks tonight, matching San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (6 on 12/25/13 at San Antonio) for most blocks in a game against the Rockets this season.

Matt Barnes gave the Clippers three players with a double-double tonight with 15 points (6-15 FG) and 10 rebounds, while Jamal Crawford went for 22 points (7-15 FG, 3-9 3FG) off the bench.

Blake Griffin left the game tonight with lower back spasms and did not return.