Turnovers. Defensive breakdowns. Poor shooting. Hack-a-everyone. Austin Rivers. Houston Rockets-L.A. Clippers Game 1 had it all.
The effort the Houston Rockets put forward on Monday night one easily qualifies as one of the franchise's major contemporary disappointments. After disposing of the Dallas Mavericks in five games, the Rockets had six days of rest, a Clippers team without Chris Paul and home court advantage. They promptly surrendered each one of those advantages:
Deadspin: The Rockets And Clippers Tried To Murder The Playoffs
The Dream Shake: The Houston Rockets straight-up embarrassed themselves
Yahoo: LA Clippers shoot down Rockets in game one
Houston Chronicle: Poor ball movement, turnovers too much for rested Rockets to overcome
NBC Sports: Doc Rivers taunts Houston fans during Clippers' Game 1 win over Rockets
No newspaper headline tacked to the locker room cork board is going to fix the problems the Rockets succumbed to on Monday. The Rockets need to calibrate everything from their defense to their composure to even this early playoff series.
After six days of rest, the Houston Rockets came out for Game 1 with a limited game plan and the expectation that an exhausted Clippers team could be run out of the gym. Instead, Blake Griffin manhandled them for a triple-double while playing point-power forward and the Rockets wore cement shoes while an ancient Hedo Turkoglu contributed in crunch time.
Kevin McHale compared the Rockets 24 turnovers to the play of seventh and eighth graders. They tied their season high in turnovers and coughed up 34 transition points to the Clippers. Houston has to take better care of the ball. Without these turnovers the team would have been able to maintain their early double-digit lead. The Rockets weren't out of the game until a series of turnovers gave the Clippers three straight three-pointers and a double-digit fourth quarter lead as the Rockets slid into a hack-a-Jordan strategy.
James Harden needs to watch tape of Chis Paul. Not in preparation of a defensive assignment, but in preparation of putting the Houston Rockets on his back and dragging them to a game two victory like Paul has spent years doing with inferior teams. Harden has to be more judicious with his passing and attempts to draw fouls. He's not going to draw every call in the playoffs the way he did in the regular season, as evidenced by his 9 turnovers.
Terrence Jones, Corey Brewer and Josh Smith have to provide more offense. After Terrence Jones morphed into a Blake Griffin turnstile there was little reason to leave him on the court. If he's incapable of generating spurts of offense or finding offensive rebounds there isn't a purpose for him to be on the court. Which is one of the reasons he played 16 minutes in Game 1.
Corey Brewer and Josh Smith both shot 3 for 13 from the field. The culprit here was shot selection. When James Harden went cold and drew his fourth foul these two attempted to shoulder the offensive burden in mindless isolation sets with no movement. Neither player is James Harden, when they are the focal point of the offense they have to find ways to move the ball and create baskets for teammates.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said there are 50/50 odds Chris Paul plays in game two. If this were a Game 7, Paul would be on the court. A healthy Paul would punish a Rockets team that failed to contain Austin Rivers, the "NBA guy who's presence in the league is entirely predicated on the fact his father is the GM and coach."
Rivers scored 17 points while facing minimal defensive opposition. If Rivers went for 17 against our defense, Paul would have gone for 45. Rockets fans shouldn't expect any adjustments on Rivers if Paul doesn't play again. Every NBA coach is happy saying this phrase in the huddle "make Austin Rivers beat us." 80 percent of the time, it works every time.
If Paul plays, anticipate Trevor Ariza to draw the assignment for extended periods of time and for the Rockets to try and force the ball to Matt Barnes. It's not a formula that worked on Monday night.
Rockets fans are lamenting the team's drive and how they quit the same way Tracy McGrady did in 2009. I'd proffer that they didn't quit. They were beaten and beaten badly.
As a gentle reminder: The Rockets' painful 2014 playoff exit began with two home losses to the Portland Trail Blazers. Advancing to the Western Conference Finals may hinge on the result of game two.
Tonight's game is at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT.