Chris Paul didn't play in this one, but any Clippers fan who uses that as an excuse is dumb: the Rockets still don't have Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones or Patrick Beverley. Marcus Thornton is still our starting small forward (he dropped 16 and continued his hot shooting) and Trevor Ariza had to guard Blake Griffin. Griffin dropped 35-11-5 and looked terrific. Ariza did fine, by the way, but Griffin is a superstar.
Enough about him, though. Harden was the brightest star in Tinseltown tonight. He would have hung 50 had Doc Rivers not decided to intentionally foul Clint Capela and Dwight Howard midway through the fourth quarter. The strategy blew up in his face, too. Howard and Capela went 7/8 from the line in those trips, the Rockets fouled DeAndre Jordan right back, who missed his two free throws before getting benched.
Dwight dominated the league's most talented frontcourt, nearly notching a double-double in the first half. He was especially great on the glass, grabbing seemingly every contested rebound. He also did this:
As the game went on, Howard continued to dominate. Clint Capela is still struggling with team defense, but his offensive game is all dunks and it's glorious. Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza still have no rhythm or shot from anywhere on the floor.
But none of it mattered. It seems like Harden is trying to hardcore atone for those first three games because he's gone for 37, 28, 43 and 46 in the games after his horrendous start. In the second and third quarters, Harden started lighting the Clippers up in ferocious manner. He called for picks, got the switches he wanted, and attack the basket with abandon. He got four and-ones in the first three quarters, and made his first 11 free throws.
The Clippers led for the majority of this game. The Rockets had serious trouble getting back on defense — despite his 20-20 game, Dwight Howard had a hard time with this and the Clippers got several easy layups and dunks as a result — and spent too much time watching James Harden dribble. You know, that old chestnut.
But once Thornton and Harden got hot at the same time — and, crucially, Griffin hit the bench at the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter, the Rockets pulled ahead and never quite relinquished the lead, despite not hitting a field goal for the last six minutes of the game.
And in the end, that was probably the most encouraging thing about this game: Harden and Howard are so good they cover up for everything. It's not like we didn't learn that last year, but it's nice that it's still true.
At some point soon, Terrence Jones will return, but his role is murkier than ever. Hopefully, Beverley can recover from his concussion because his role is clear and he's still missed. And good lord do the Rockets miss Donatas Motiejunas. Until some of that trio can get it together, someone not named Marcus Thornton needs to step up. It should be Ty Lawson, it could be Brewer. Neither of them looked any good tonight.
But it doesn't matter, because the Rockets won. They are 4-3, and above .500 for the first time this year. With the winless Brooklyn Nets coming to Houston on Wednesday, here's a prediction: they don't go back under again this year.
P.S. None of this matter because James Harden gave this look to Matt Bullard after the game