The Rockets are down 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals to the Los Angeles Clippers, but it feels like they're down 10-1. This is how soundly the Clippers have beaten the Rockets, and how thoroughly Houston has fallen apart.
Kevin McHale has tried everything. Hack-a-DeAndre worked in the first half of Game 4, but it became untenable early in the second half when he realized he soon would run out of players. Once that happened, the rout was on. In the third quarter -- again -- the Clippers torched the Rockets, using a barrage of Chris Paul pick-and-rolls to tear about the soft Rockets defense.
Schematics are neither here nor there. It's the simple principle of Occam's Razor: the simplest solution is usually the correct one.
Yes, the Rockets haven't been making their three-pointers. Or their free throws. They've been turning it over too much, they've been lazy on defense, lazy in general. They have played much, much better this season, as recently as last round.
But they haven't played better against the Clippers. The Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan Clippers have had the Rockets' number for the entirety of the James Harden era. They give Harden fits, not letting him get into a rhythm. They have too many shooters to account for. The Rockets don't have the depth to take advantage of the Clippers' lack thereof.
Sometimes, one team is just better than the other.
I've truly enjoyed watching Dwight Howard's playoff resurgence, but never before has the simple fact that he is 6-foot-10 been so apparent and so disadvantageous. DeAndre Jordan has a solid three inches on him, and even more in length. He's first to every rebound, quicker to every spot, and simply better at the parts of the game Dwight Howard excels at. It's disheartening.
Chris Paul is a surgeon, and even at a clear 70 percent, it's apparent that no one on the Rockets is playing on the same intellectual plane is. He's bending the defense to his will, and the only answer the Rockets have for it is to put DeAndre Jordan at the line.
Harden hasn't been bad this series, in all honesty. He had 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and just one turnover. One! And yet, he left nary an imprint in this game. When the Rockets desperately needed him to take over in the third quarter, the only shot he could get for himself was a step-back mid-range jumper, basically the hardest, least efficient shot in the game.
When Harden couldn't get anything going, the whole team sank into despair. Corey Brewer, so vital in energizing the team since he came over, has given them nothing but ill-advised shots, turnovers, and flopping. Jason Terry, key as his three-pointers were and encouraging as his energy has been, is lost guarding J.J. Redick. He's allowed one of the premier marksman in the league to spring free for shot after shot, simply because he can't stay with him.
The Rockets have been outmaneuvered at every junction, out-played in nearly every quarter, and out-manned at every layer of the game. This has not been a confluence of mishaps going the Rockets way.
The Rockets are down 3-1, and it feels like 10-1. That's because the Clippers are a better team.
The Rockets will lose this series. Next year, they will try to reload, and change things up. Because this team, even though it's not fully healthy, simply cannot compete with likes of the Clippers.
Something has to change. There's nothing like an ass-whooping to let you know that for sure.