If you were to take just a cursory glance at the box score from Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, you might think that a decent game was played. “This was a pretty high scoring game, that’s neat!” or, “Blake Griffin had a triple-double, that’s also neat!” or, “The score was close late into the fourth quarter, that’s extra neat!” are some things you might think when looking at that box score. Do not think these things. Last night’s game between the Clippers and Rockets was one of the worst playoff games I’ve ever seen, and everyone who was involved in it should be embarrassed.
We’ll start with the obvious problem, which is that Chris Paul’s busted hamstring prevented him from playing a single minute. This meant that Austin Rivers had to start a second-round playoff game—he spent the game doing deeply embarrassing things and was still one of the more productive players on the court—and that the already destitute Clippers’ bench had to be supplemented by the two man-shaped pile of sticks and mud known as Lester Hudson and Hedo Turkoglu, the latter of whom was seen actually smoking a cigarette on the court. Paul’s absence also meant that at any given time, there was never more than two decent ball-handlers among the 10 men that were on the floor.
This is how you end up with 44 combined turnovers and both teams looking like they were drunk. The Clippers had trouble completing the simplest passes on the perimeter, and their high pick-and-rolls looked like they were being run in a closet. Their best option on offense was to have Blake Griffin grab a defensive rebound, then race down the court as fast as possible and try to dunk the ball.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were throwing the ball around (and off) the floor like they were convinced that there was no possible way they could lose this game. And they should have been right! James Harden, Dwight Howard, and three dingoes should have been able to handle a Clippers team that had this guy starting at point guard:
The Clippers at least had a built-in excuse for playing like hell. At one point, I think I saw a piece of Blake Griffin’s soul die when he went to pass out of a double team and saw the four piles of mush that were stationed around the perimeter.
The Rockets are the real villains here. They did breathtakingly dumb things—my opinion is that any team that allows an after-timeout possession in crunch-time to end with a Josh Smith corner three should be expelled from the league—and generally carried themselves like a group of unruly teens who were tired of hearing their dad say things like, “Hey, gang, why don’t we try to cut down on the needless behind-the-back passes tonight?” Thhhbbbbpbppbpbp, fuck you, old man! says Josh Smith as he fires up another three with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. Suck on my hairy left ball bag, you crusty fuck! says James Harden as he kick-flips through another pick-and-roll and fires a pass to the other team.
Things only got worse as the game went on, too. With the Clippers starting to extend their lead, Kevin McHale went to the hack-a-DeAndre strategy, which is a lame but perfectly sensible way to try to make up some ground before the last two minutes. But then Doc Rivers, whose team was up by eight points with less than three minutes to play, started hacking Dwight Howard. Then, after the dueling hack-a-DeAndre and hack-a-Dwight strategies had played out, the Rockets just kind of stopped playing defense and spent the last minute or so standing around the court in a formation I haven’t seen outside of a middle-school gym. It was stupefying and surreal, and the perfect way for this crap-ass game to end.
The bad news is that, unless Chris Paul manages to get himself back on the court, there’s not much reason to believe this series is going to get any better. We’ve yammered about this before, but the playoffs are at their best when they toss two teams that are capable of elevating each other’s play into a series. The Clips without Chris Paul are in no position to push any opponent to new heights, and the Rockets seem content to hang out in the swamp and throw mud with an inferior squad. Even if the Rockets do get their shit together and go on to run off four blowout victories over a broken team, that won’t be much fun to watch, either.