The mental preparations for a loss in this contest began well before the tip-off. The Rockets were playing the last game of a long West Coast road trip. They were playing the Los Angeles Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back. The Clippers had been pure poison to the Rockets in previous meetings. Any of those factors could lead to a loss. All of them? In the end, yes, all of them appeared.
The game commenced and "Pure Poison" jumped out to an early lead. The game had hardly begun before most Rockets fans were surely thinking "Oh no, here we go again." as the Clippers raced to a big lead, as they do in every contest with the Rockets it would appear. The Clippers pulled ahead by 13pts with seemingly no time elapsed in the quarter. The Rockets could not get out of their own way, turning the ball over, playing porous defense and missing a seemingly infinite number of shots at the rim.
Then somehow the Rockets got their heads on straight. They began making shots, playing some defense. When the quarter ended, despite the high pace, the Clippers had scored 26, the Rockets 22. Given that the Clippers managed to hang around 40 in a quarter on the Rockets earlier this year, given that the Rockets looked incredibly flat for most of the quarter, this was good news.
The news would get a bit better in the second quarter, though not unequivocally so. A one point the Rockets managed to narrow the scoring gap, and then extend a lead of around 6 on LAC. Whereupon they started looking tired, inept, and uninterested. The Clippers took the lead back. But the Clippers had some inept play of their own in reserve and flew it proudly. When a half that was characterized by frantic, fast, sloppy low-scoring basketball ended, the Rockets almost inexplicably lead by 2 at 48-46.
The game continued back and forth through the third as though no halftime pause had occurred. Neither team looked particularly motivated, but Blake Griffin put his newfound complete game on display, scoring seemingly at will, and handling with ease. I'm not sure where this "Blake Griffin is a small PF" stuff has come from, but let's dispense with it, ok? Not sure who made a law that PFs should be 6'11", but that really hasn't been the rule over the years, and isn't now. Positions are defined by a player's ability to play that position, and Blake Griffin can now play PF, not just dunk.
Anyhow, due to a couple of clever alley oops that really looked like crappy shots gone good for the Clippers, the third quarter concluded with the Clippers leading by one point, at a mere 74-73. The expected fireworks show had yet to manifest itself. And in the end, it wouldn't.
The fourth quarter was punctuated by mostly bad play from the Rockets, but more than that, it appeared that nobody on the Rockets had anything in the tank. A tired looking team became nearly sessile. Throw in some aggressive play from the Clippers, some timely shot-making on their part, Blake Griffin point-power-forward and things looked grim. Grim they would remain, as a tired Rockets team ended a generally strong run on the road. Darren Collison forgetting he isn't all that good, scoring 12pts in the 4th quarter, seemingly unable to miss. The game ended with the Clippers scoring pretty much all the points, and the Rockets looking like they were ready to go home.
Time for some bullet points. (The Lazy Man's Friend (tm))
- Clippers won all three matchups with Houston this season, but I'm less worried about them as an opponent than I was very early in the season when the first two games occurred. This is a different Rockets team than it was early in the year. A win would have been great, but the sort of throttling the Rockets experienced earlier didn't occur. The Rockets ran out of gas, and looked listless the whole way though, as the low-scoring tally indicates. This isn't saying these results have been good, or that it would be an easy series, only that a series with LAC is quite winnable.
- The two losses of the road trip game against two playoff teams on the second night of a back-to-back. It never gets old.
- Jordan Hamilton welcome to the Rockets. He might be the guy we've been needing. He has size, speed, rebounding, and can hit the catch-and-shoot 3pter. Hitting open shots is useful.
- Chris Paul is an uber-tool. Clippers fans should be struck by lightning if they ever complain about James Harden.
- In a way its good that the Rockets realize there is a mountain to climb when it comes to certain teams, but I believe they can climb it.
- In all this was a tired team that stumbled into a loss tonight.
- LA Clipper fans have taken the lead in the "Stupid Dwight Howard Booing" sweepstakes, over Golden State. Golden State fans were aggrieved that Howard took a job elsewhere. Ok that's lame and sad. But LA Clipper fans booed...on behalf of the Lakers? On behalf of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce? This was the most pathetic yet. Pathetic and moronic. The lingering suspicion that any team that rents a bigger more successful team's building isn't a true team is only reinforced by this sort of behavior.
- The Rockets have only won 8 of their last 10 basketball games. All is lost!