Los Angeles, CA — Despite James Harden’s near triple double performance, the Los Angeles Clippers (11-5) improved to a 10-1 record in Staples Center behind Kawhi Leonard’s fourth quarter heroics. The Clippers pulled of the tight win, 122-119 as the Houston Rockets drops to 11-6.
This is a matchup that may have been a preview of a possible Western Conference Finals showdown. This was also a game in which both team’s dynamic duos were on the floor. This turned out to be a hard fought game between two of the NBA’s best.
What Los Angeles was able to do tonight was what you always hope to when matched up against the bearded one, who finished with a dazzling 37 points, 8 rebounds and 12 assists on 56 percent shooting. Have his teammates beat you.
The red, white and blue decided that they would show a double team to the former first round pick once he passed half court. Los Angeles did a great job in not showing that sequence every possession on defense, though. However, they didn’t do a great job being disciplined when they chose to double Harden.
There were times when he could get around and ultimately beat the double team, which then left LA at his mercy where Harden could throw the lob to Clint Capela or draw fouls and get to the line. Yet, Los Angeles got what they wanted accomplished, which was getting the others to beat them.
The “others” for the Rockets combined for 82 points on 44 percent shooting and 43 percent from distance. Those percentages as a team aren’t bad, yet, there are numbers on paper and there’s what we know about the Rockets.
The players that surround Harden don’t get shots frequently or in rhythm. So, when Harden passes it to them, there’s already been five or six plays where that shot was there and he passed it up to score himself.
With the addition of Russell Westbrook in that, who finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, he also is a player like Harden where he creates for himself first then get it to the others.
So, it wasn’t the Clippers stopping Harden, however, it was the team showing different packages to slow him down.
This wasn’t the best performance for the Clippers’ Paul George (19 points on 26 percent shooting). Leonard did his thing, finishing with 24 points and 6 rebounds. However, when one half of your duo isn’t shining, you need your teammates to step up. There’s no arguing that help comes in no better form than what this team has.
The bench mob for the LA combined for 58 points, 44 coming from Lou Williams and Montrez Harrell. What’s enjoyable about this team has been looked at as the deepest roster in the NBA. Each player knows who they are and their role.
Williams is looked at as a shot creator and the team’s bench leader. He finished with zero points in the first half. However, this team has instilled so much confidence in him and he himself knows what he can do, he’s able to go out and still take those shots in the second half. Williams is also able to erupt offensive like he did tonight, finishing with 26 points.
Harrell can also produce but in a different form. He’s the hustle rebounder and the guy that cleans the glass. He finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds.
This is a reason Leonard came to the Los Angeles. Not that the Toronto Raptors were a bad team, but for whatever other reason you want to put out, this was a Clippers team with ready made role guys whose egos aren’t involved.
Klaw’d us Home
When the captain doesn’t panic, the crew doesn’t either. The second half by the Rockets was outstanding.
Houston began the half on an 8-0 run, they outscored the Clippers 33-25 in the third period, Harden was heating up, the Rockets had the lead and it seemed as if Harden figured LA out.
Yet, this is a Clippers team that didn’t waver. Getting in the bonus early in the fourth helped tremendously. However, with guys like Williams, George and others, who Doc Rivers trusts and can let them play while Leonard sits on the bench. And when it’s winning time… you have one of the top closers in the business.
Leonard finished with 11 of his 24 points in the fourth. He came into the game second in the league in fourth quarter scoring (10.8). He’s a guy that when he gets the ball in those moments, he’s able to make the right decisions and is never nervous to take a big shot.
In addition, he made the go-ahead field goal to put Los Angeles up by a point (120-119) in the closing frame.
Despite the recent talk of load management with Leonard, it’s tough to argue with him resting if this is the result his team gets. Not only from game 16 of the regular season, but when the playoffs strike.
Houston will look to get back to their winning ways as they’ll face the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 24. On the other end, Los Angeles will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 24.