I have been waiting for this one.
LA can have this one. Houston will take the World Series.— The Dream Shake (@DreamShakeSBN) January 16, 2018
See you again February 28 on ESPN.
The last time these teams met, there were fireworks. The Rockets came in at 30-11 after riding through the storm of a 5-game losing streak. The Clippers were 21-21 and in the midst of a 6-game winning streak.
For the Clippers, the game was clearly personal. For a decent chunk of the Clips, they were playing the team that traded them in the offseason. Even Patrick Beverley, beloved by the Houston fanbase even now, stood on the sidelines jeering his old squad.
Lou Williams did the real damage, scoring 31 on 12-19 shooting to go along with 9 assists. Montrezl Harrell had 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks off the bench. Sam Dekker had three dimes and was enjoying every minute of the game.
The rest of the Clippers (non-former Rockets division) wanted this game because it marked the return of Chris Paul to Staples Center to face his former team. The Clips were having a down year (injuries were/are certainly to blame), and the team was probably tired of hearing about how their chances of contention left with CP3. Blake Griffin wanted to show that the Clippers were his team now and that the future was bright with him as the face of the franchise. Yes, that statement is hilarious now but it was 100% true at the time.
You could tell from the tip that the Clippers just wanted it more. With James Harden missing the game with an injury, CP3 did CP3 things and helped get Houston out to a 44-34 lead early in the second. From then on, the Clippers were just relentless on both ends of the court. LA as a unit shot 56% from the field and 40% from deep. Defensively, they held Houston to just 40% overall and under 30% from deep. The only Rocket that shot above 50% was Clint Capela, and even he was a relative non-factor. You could argue that every Rockets player put in a stinker and you would probably win the argument. Frankly, the Clippers deserved the win and the Rockets deserved the loss.
If that’s how the story ended, no one would remember this game. There was a secret tunnel, a diversion, and false tweets about Harden and CP3 getting into a fight with each other. Trevor Ariza was suspended for two games, while both teams felt like the other got off easily. While the tunnel story was easy headline fodder, there was actually a ton of crazy stuff that happened in the game that you may have forgotten about.
Here’s what else happened (with the help of bullet points, the Lazy Man’s best friend):
- With Houston down 8, Eric Gordon’s layup is blocked by Wesley Johnson. I’m pretty sure every single person watching the game, including Clippers fans, saw that Wes blocked the shot after it hit the backboard. Unfortunately, the three men in charge of, you know, watching the game, didn’t see it. (Again, this probably didn’t affect the outcome but was such an egregious error that it bears discussion.)
- On the ensuing possession, Griffin takes a wide turn and possibly makes contact with Mike D’Antoni while running in transition.
- On the same possession, Griffin catches the ball in the post, gets fouled, does a spin move, and still was allowed continuation. As Rockets fans have seen this year, continuation has been a fickle thing with referees. Griffin getting one after the previous missed goaltend was difficult to swallow and the Rockets let the refs know their displeasure.
- Oh, and all three of those things (missed goaltend, possible contact with a coach, and a dubious continuation) all happened in a span of 8 seconds.
- Next, while the Rockets were incensed at the poor officiating, MDA starts yelling at Griffin. There is an obvious F-bomb thrown in.
- CP3 comes over to get in Griffin’s face, and technicals are handed to both.
- With under two minutes and the game all but over, Griffin spins past Ariza, who grabs at his shorts and tears them.
- On the ensuing inbounds, Griffin catches the ball near the sideline and is bumped out-of-bounds by Gordon. Griffin jumps in the air and throws it as hard as he can at Gordon’s back. The Rockets aren’t pleased, but Griffin starts pumping up the crowd. The score is 111-98 with 1:12 left. Reggie Miller has to change his pants because he’s enjoying the hatred so much.
- After Griffin hits both free throws, Ariza couldn’t get to the corner on offense because both Beverley and Austin Rivers are standing ON THE FREAKING COURT! Ariza lets them know he isn’t pleased with their choice of real estate. Griffin takes exception and the two get into a staring contest. Both gentlemen are ejected.
- As the final buzzer sounds, Gerald Green continues to yell over at the Clippers bench before being ushered back to the locker room.
So, you could say there’s some history here. Griffin’s departure takes a smidgen of luster off the game, but on the whole I think the Clippers might not be the only team that cares about winning the game tonight. Austin Rivers and DeAndre Jordan are back for the Clips, and the Beard gets tagged in for the Rockets. Oh, and it’s national television.
The Clippers are the only Western Conference team on a winning streak against Houston.
That shit ends tonight.
Tip-off is at 9:30pm CT on ESPN