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Rockets answer coach’s challenge in dismantling of Clippers

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The coached asked for more and the Rockets obliged.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Well, how’s that for a answer to a challenge? A few days ago, after a disheartening loss at home to the Indiana Pacers, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni called out his team a little bit. D’Antoni went so far as to tell his guys they were playing “soft”, and he publicly gave them a rightful roasting for a lack of heart and toughness.

After last night’s 122-103 thrashing of the Los Angeles Clippers, I think it’s fair to say that the message has been received. The Rockets played with a renewed sense of defensive energy and focus, and after struggling mightily on the boards since the All-Star break (and at times, all throughout the season), the Rockets showed what can happen when rebounding is a priority.

Houston took a tough Clippers front line and turned them into mincemeat on the boards, outrebounding L.A. a whopping 62-36. Clint Capela, Nene and Patrick Beverley (what a maniac that guy is, unbelievable) all finished with double-digit rebounds for the Rockets.

While it was some unconscious three-point shooting that broke open a tight contest in the second quarter and turned it into a laugher, a cranked up defensive effort also played a role in squashing the Clippers. In the decisive second and third quarters, the Rockets held the Clippers to 21 and 20 points respectively. L.A. shot just 40 percent from the field combined in those two quarters. The Rockets also forced 6 of the Clippers’ 8 turnovers in those two frames as well.

While we’re on the topic of turnovers, the Rockets forced 8 of them total for the game. They scored 22 points off of those 8 turnovers, which means they scored 2.75 points for every Clipper turnover. How’s that for efficiency? For comparison, the Clippers had just 14 points off of 17 Houston cough-ups.

The Rockets also took home most of the hustle stats. They had more second-chance points than L.A. (20-15) and more fast break points (20-14) than the Clippers, in addition to the huge advantage scoring off of turnovers. Make no mistake, this was a comprehensive thrashing by the Rockets. A direct answer to their head coach’s call-out.

Even Clippers head coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the effort Houston put forth against his squad, saying:

"I just thought they played harder, they played with more energy. They attacked. They stuck with their stuff."

It’s just another in a long line of superb coaching decisions this year from D’Antoni, who appears to have his finger directly on this team’s pulse. A good coach knows exactly when, and how, to call out his guys and how they will respond. D’Antoni knew his players had more effort in them, and it showed in last night’s dominance. We’ll say it again: Coach of the Year, anyone?

The key will be working on maintaining that same level of intensity down this last stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs. If the Rockets can play their best basketball of the year heading into postseason time, there is suddenly a huge opportunity in the Western Conference.

Kevin Durant’s injury opens up a major window for the other teams out West. Even if he returns in time for the playoffs (which is not a forgone conclusion at this point, just a hope), he won’t be in prime basketball shape. The Rockets, who already match up well with Golden State, now have a not-unrealistic path out of the West if they can play up to their potential. It’ll be up to them to maintain this high level of effort to have a shot at the title.

If last night’s shellacking was any indication, the Rockets appear to back on the right track— with a welcome assist from their head coach.