HOUSTON< TX – In what should have been a match-up between two of the top teams in the Western Conference turned into a complete flop as the Los Angeles Clippers (43-19) beat the Houston Rockets (39-22) 120-105 Thursday night.
While the Clippers led the entire game, the Rockets didn’t do themselves many favors on the offensive end. In a performance reminiscent of their 2018 Western Conference Finals Game 7 collapse (where they missed 27 straight three-pointers), the Rockets shot 7-of-42 from three-point range – ending their streak of 18 straight games with 10 or more made three-pointers. James Harden, who missed all eight of his attempts (4-of-17 overall for 16 points), made clear that this wasn’t a complete game on either end for the Rockets.
“We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do on both ends of the floor,” Harden said. “They made some tough shots. Defensively, we weren’t in our spots and we didn’t do what the game plan was.”
The Clippers’ game plan throughout was to expose the Rockets’ small-ball strategy by either having Montrezl Harrell or Ivica Zubac on the floor at all times – a strategy that worked early and often. In the first half, the Rockets only made two of their 22 attempted three-pointers as the Clippers carried a 67-44 lead into halftime.
The small rest didn’t help Houston, apparently. The third quarter was full of offensive miscues, including a 24-second violation where Russell Westbrook, PJ Tucker and Robert Covington all airballed shots. The three-pointers still weren’t falling (1-of-12 in the quarter) and even their layups started failing them as they trailed 90-65 going into the fourth.
Most of the starters on both ends sat for the majority of the final frame, as the Clippers were up by as much as 30 going into the end. With the win, the Clippers improved to 10-0 with a fully healthy roster. Head coach Doc Rivers credited the win to not getting too absorbed with the Rockets’ game plan.
“What they do is smart for what they do, it really is, but we couldn’t get caught in trying to play that way and I thought we didn’t,” Rivers said. “We stayed calm, moved the ball, found the open guy and our bigs were big.”
Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni kept his explanation of the game very simple.
“It was just a whole barrel of bad stuff,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said, shaking his head. “We just got our butts whipped.”
Russell Westbrook led all players with 29 points and 15 rebounds, the only Houston player to score more than 20. The Clippers had six players score in double figures, led by Kawhi Leonard with 25. Every player on the Clippers (with the exception of Patrick Patterson) scored at least one basket.
Thursday’s loss was the second straight loss for Houston after falling to the New York Knicks on Monday. The season series between the two teams ends with a 2-2 split. The Rockets travel next to Charlotte for a Saturday dance with the Hornets while the Clippers get to play the home team against their neighbor, the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers, on Saturday.
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.