Let's all admit what we already knew: the Rockets near 50 point win against the Grizzlies was a major fluke. That Grizzlies team resembled more of a D-League roster that night. However, tonight the Rockets faced a legitimate NBA playoff contender in the form of the L.A. Clippers, and it wasn't pretty. This game was about the Clippers simply capitalizing on the Rockets defense we have all come to know and
love hate this season. The Clippers opened up a big lead by the middle of the second quarter and never looked back.
The game started off with J.J. Redick scorching the Rockets for 14 points in the first five or so minutes of the game. The Clippers ran endless screens for him and Trevor Ariza (and the rest of the Rockets) weren't up for chasing him around the perimeter. Also, Chris Paul absolutely picked apart the Rockets defense, as he seemed to be playing in slow motion as he racked up eight assists in the first quarter. Harden also had 13 points in the quarter, but the Rockets trailed by nine as a result of poor effort and sloppy defense (aka the same story we've been hearing about this team for the past month).
I would include the vine of James Harden falling asleep on defense yet again, but by the time you've read this, I'm sure you'd have seen it on Twitter. I will say that for the first time in a while, Harden was visibly willing his teammates on, clapping after offensive baskets or defensive stops. He even pulled aside players before or after timeouts to give them a talking to. Well it didn't work as the Clippers second unit ran through and around the Rockets to give them a 22 point lead at the half.
I have to address the Dwight Howard post ups. I just have to. We all know Dwight is not very good at posting up and frankly never has been, but tonight's game was a horror. There were three consecutive possessions where Dwight was fed the ball in the post, and all three ended in either a turnover or a terribly missed shot. The guy can't post up anymore. And worse, as Hubie Brown rightly pointed out late in the fourth quarter, Dwight was visibly sulking and lacking effort on his defensive rotations. It was a troubling and disturbing sight. Also, there was a bunch of hack-A-DeAndre in the final minutes of the half, but I just don't want to get in to that (quick recap: it was long and boring, and didn't even work because the Rockets couldn't find the basket to end the half anyways).
The third quarter played out like the first two, with the Clippers taking advantage of said lack of effort by the Rockets and silly turnovers from K.J. McDaniels, who looked really out of it on offense tonight. Then, the Rockets did their usual "make a noticeable run to begin the fourth quarter so the score looks respectable at the end" thing and got within eleven at one point, but who else but J.J. Redick essentially put the nail in the coffin with a big three with around two minutes to go. It must be said, Montrezl Harrell had a nice outing, with 8 points coming in the fourth quarter and several big dunks like this:
In the end, this was just another embarrassing loss from the Rockets, especially considering the Clippers played the night before. They simply out hustled the Rockets and took advantage of the Rockets infamous defense to cruise to the victory in Houston. Yes James Harden finished with 33 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds, but those felt like empty stats considering the 8 turnovers he had as well as the overall lack of effort from the team. The Rockets are simply the epitome of a .500 team. Some nights they show up and play well, other nights they seem to show up to the games without a single care of the result. It's dispiriting, but Rockets fans should be used to it by now. One can only hope they show up for every single playoff game, if they are able to make it.
The Rockets next take the court to face the Timberwolves on Friday to close out the home stand. No one can be certain they'll show up for that game either.