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James Harden, Bench Mob stop the streak, beat Clippers 110-105

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The Houston Rockets bench, and a late James Harden push netted the Rockets a hard-fought 110-105 win.

Houston Rockets star James Harden (R) finally played a (reasonably) good game against Chris Paul (L) and the Los Angeles Clippers
Houston Rockets star James Harden (R) finally played a (reasonably) good game against Chris Paul (L) and the Los Angeles Clippers
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Finally.

I know it wasn't the most efficient game from the MVP candidate, but James Harden finally pulled out a reasonably good game against the Los Angeles Clippers. 21 points on 4-13 from the field with 10 assists may not seem all that great, until you take a look at how bad he's been against the Clippers:

Exactly. Terrible. This game started down that same path.

Harden clearly came out of the locker room looking to take the pressure off of the Clippers infamous defensive traps by facilitating a lot more in the opening quarter (4 assists). The rest of the starting lineup fed off that ball movement early, as only one basket in the first was not assisted.

With Houston not getting a lot of good opportunities in the paint, due to the Clippers are doing an admiral job of packing the paint, Harden did have opportunities from outside. He just couldn't throw a pebble in the ocean early on.

Harden missed various open looks, making you wonder if his struggles against the Clips had become a mental hurdle that he would have to overcome. He was seeing so many bodies thrown at him (especially in the paint) it got a little ridiculous. His forays to that point seemed a bit wild and miscalculated at this. He didn't even get his first free throw attempt until 3:30 left in the first quarter.

In the interim, the Rockets defense surely wasn't compensating. Honestly, outside of the fourth quarter, there wasn't much standout defense in this game. Early on, the Rockets were losing J.J. Redick (15 points) on the perimeter and later Jamal Crawford (24 points) put on a one-man show. DeAndre Jordan (22 points, 19 rebounds) had 10 rebounds in the first quarter(!), for crying out loud.

Not that the Rockets were lacking for energy and effort to get the job done on that end. Corey Brewer (20 points, 6 rebounds) brought that in spades tonight.

Brewer started off in the second showing some aggressiveness by getting to the line where Houston was much more effective without DeAndre Jordan in the game. But it was the fourth quarter defense in combination with Brewer's burst that helped push the Rockets to a win at home.

After spending a chunk of the second and third quarters getting destroyed by Crawford's one-man-show of step back threes, hesitation dribble-drives, and general showmanship (he scored 13 points in the second, 18 in the first half); and the semi-impossible to stop Chris Paul-Jordan pick-and-rolls, the Rockets managed a few key changes that stymied the Clippers offense.

And I mean honestly, they could not stop that pick and roll. It was pretty silly to think anyone short of the injured Dwight Howard was going to stop it, but still. With Houston's reaction much too slow, and with Matt Barnes at the power forward position, there was no absolutely no weak side help to at least slow Jordan's rolls to the basket.

With Jordan on bench, Donatas Motiejunas (18 points, 9 rebounds, and some nostalgia Dream Shake ownage in the post) and Terrence Jones (14 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks) took even more advantage; doing wonders in the paint, rim running for easy buckets and offensive rebounds. The Clips got out of sync offensively quickly, leading to forced shots from outside, turnovers, and fast break points.

Brewer had two three's, an assist to Trevor Ariza (17 points, 5-9 from three, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) for another, and a fastbreak layup and dunk. His energy and defense (including a nice block on Glen "Big Baby" Davis) fueled the Houston defense in essence. The Clippers were 1-11 with 5:44 left in the game, until a DeAndre Jordan dunk from a (of course) Chris Paul pick-and-roll lob.

Once the Rockets put a bigger wing player on the ball, when it was in Chris Paul's hands, things changed. This allowed the Rockets to switch on the pick and roll, forcing CP3 into holding the ball until late in the shot clock. With limited options this led to either a late pass and hurried shot attempts or botched isolation plays.

It also led to a desperate Chris "swiper no swiping" Paul into things like this:


Harden scored eight of his 21 in the fourth quarter  including a three-pointer that put the Rockets up by 11. That was enough of a cushion, combined with timely defense to end the game.

There really is a lot that went into this win. Jason Terry's early sticky-finger defense, great point guard play off the bench from Pablo Prigioni, and I can't say enough about how much of a "fit" Josh Smith played in this game (9 points, 9 rebounds, 28 minutes). No, he wasn't great, he can't hit a free throw, but he made timely passes to move the ball and played smart defense for the most part.

D-Mo and TJ as a frontcourt duo (aka the new K-Ci & JoJo) produced the best basketball out of the frontcourt in quite sometime. They played well inside and out (combined 3-5 from three), and on offense and defense (notice the effectiveness that Jones snuffed out Spencer Hawes before he could get started). They may secretly have been the MVP's of this game.

Overall, a killer effort from the bench, a timely revival from the MVP-candidate, and a flicker of defense got the Rockets a well-fought win.