With the Grizzlies-Warriors, Wizards-Hawks, and Cavaliers-Bulls (before tonight) series all even at two games a piece, the Rockets-Clippers series was the outlier. The Clippers stomped all over the Rockets in Games 1, 3, and 4, winning by 16, 25, and 33 points. Chris Paul didn’t even play in the first, and played minimal minutes in the next two. But tonight, when most people (or maybe just me) expected the Rockets to meekly slink out of the playoffs, they put a beatdown on the Clippers, winning 124-103.
After a back-and-forth first quarter where the Rockets slowly gained an edge, the turning point in the game came with 9:14 left in the second quarter. DeAndre Jordan picked up his third foul, and Doc Rivers opted to pull him from the game. The Rockets were up six when Jordan committed the foul, but stretched that lead to 15 by halftime with him sitting out. James Harden ended the half with a buzzer-beating jumper. The Rockets never looked back.
The game was mostly free of the intentional hacking or poor foul shooters that marred the first four contests, though both at the end of the third quarter and middle of the fourth quarter DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard went to the line a few times because of it.
Both of the Rockets stars showed up in a big way. James Harden had 26 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists, while Dwight Howard went 20-15, and made just enough free throws (6-14) for the hacking not to hurt the Rockets. Crucially, they also received solid bench minutes from Clint Capela—he’s a rookie that only played 90 minutes this season, so it’s okay if you’ve never heard of him—Terrence Jones, and Corey Brewer.
After four games Los Angeles looked like the dominant team, but they got blasted out of the gym tonight. This series—and the whole of the second round, really—is a good reminder to avoid reactionary pronouncements during the playoffs. The Clippers have looked like the better team and are still favored to advance, but the Rockets are a pretty good team! They tied for the third most wins this season (with the Clippers) with Dwight Howard missing a ton of games, and they have the MVP runner-up. They’re a pretty good basketball team, and it’s not inconceivable that they will sneak out the series win.
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