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Clippers lean on reputation, defeat Rockets 106-100

LAC: FANtastically Hard To Watch

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers
Jim Harden Brushes His Teeth, Puts On A Girdle, Shows The Rockets What They’re Missing
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

I’ve been writing recaps of Rockets games for, I’m not sure, considerably more than a decade at this point, closer to two I’d imagine. I’ve written hundreds of recaps. Hundreds. Maybe four or five hundred, I’m not sure. I can count on one hand, and certainly no more than two, the games where I vented full force on the officiating. I’d imagine the percentage of me doing this amounts to less than 1% of all my recaps, it might reach 2% on a pretty large sample.

Nonetheless, I’m almost always strenuously informed that I’m wrong, it didn’t happen, and it’s just an excuse, and only losers do that sort of thing. As if, 99% of the time, it is not my primary theme.

I certainly don’t want to break the NBA version of John Gardner’s “Fictive Dream”. I want to participate in it, revel in it, and live for a little while in the brighter, better, more colorful world of the NBA (and I don’t mean the NBA Tourney courts). Sometimes a game yanks me out of it, pulls off the warm blanket of the fictive dream of professional basketball, and everything turns cold.

Tonight was one such night. It wasn’t Tim Donaghy bad (though I recall being called out by posters for complaining about some of his “best work” in a Rockets game way back when). Tonight turned my favorite sports-related fictive dream into something of a nightmare.

But still, I’ll write two recaps, and if you feel quite righteous about these things, you can just stop after the first one. I think both are true.

The Official Version

The Los Angles Clippers really are the basketball version of a rock and roll supergroup. That is to say, a bunch of big name solo artists pretending to be a band, and just waiting to grab the microphone and let it rip with their old big hits.

They can’t really be a good band, because they all are leads, except the drummer. The most versatile of them, Paul George has consented to pick up a bass, play it even, and he’s not bad. Zubac is on drums, of course. There are three lead guitarists, taking turns at solos. There are some more less talented lead guitarists on the bench, too.

I’ve seen talent deficient teams that were hard to watch, I’ve seen teams who have seen the sand run out of the hourglass on their style of playing, I’ve seen the Houston (bleeping) Rockets for the past three seasons. I have not see a team with so much talent so desperately, ludicrously, painful to watch, as the LA Clippers. It’s awful basketball, and Ty Lue should get a MacArthur grant if he can make it look pretty, because he’s definitely a genius.

James Harden was spurned from a huge contract, or at least an offer he could shop, by Houston after Ime Udoka reportedly flatly refused to have him on a team he coached. Tonight, revenge! Harden had his best game as a...Net?, Sixer?, Thudner, Rocket?, no, Clipper! As a Clipper! 24pts 8/11FGA 2/4 3pt, 9reb, 7ast, 1 blk in 34 minutes. Hot, right?

Harden has been accused of being the NBA’s most incorrigible actor. Who are we, who know him best, to disagree? Tonight he tried a new role: the bitter, dissipated and slightly past-it hot girl (stage name LeSystéme) who decides to show the one who spurned her what he’s missing. Sure, she walked out, left him will a brutal credit card bill, and never looked back. Never looked back that is, until she needed another new place to stay, and some more money. She was upset when Tillman didn’t just send a jet and hand over the Centurion card.

So James got his beard did, brushed his teeth, put on a girdle and grifted his way into his hottest performance of the season, and was spotted actually running sometimes. He went so far as to get a foul called on a game winning shot, just to make a point. 24pts 8/11FGA 2/4 3pt, 9reb, 7ast, 1 blk in 34 minutes, game-winning-fall-on-his-ass-into-a-defender-three-pointer. And one.Hot! So hot, right? Now how do you feel, Mr. Houston?

Happy with the decision, thanks. Stay with Big Bankroll Balmer.

This was the most painful NBA game I’ve watched all season, and I watch a lot of games, even Pistons games (ok not Wizards). This includes the Rockets woeful first game in Orlando, where they appeared to think it would all be like pre-season. Since then the Rockets have gotten better almost every game. They’ve gotten good enough to win this one, barring some young player mistakes late, and a continuing inability to make open shots. And some stuff mentioned later.

The Rockets have gotten so good, so competitive, so quickly this season that we might forget our original aims. We wanted to see our young guys get past their arrested development of the past two years. We wanted to see good, fun, competitive, basketball. We wanted to see the team play hard, and stop being an embarrassment to the proud name of the Houston Rockets. Guess what? We’ve gotten that in spades.

This was a loss at the end of a six game win streak. It was close. It was winnable. The Rockets are going to win more games, but maybe not on this road trip in California, because it feels like they’ve the wrestling heel and there’s some heavy narrative lifting to be done in Los Angeles (both teams) and The Bayed Area. The Rockets aren’t the team that gets lifted. Not yet, anyway.

If the Rockets can make themselves an average scoring team for this season, 114 points per game, they’ll be incredibly hard to beat. Average output, stellar defense. That’s all it would take. Better execution late wins it, in spite of all the stuff below, because the Rockets just play that hard.


Another Version

Please ignore this if you don’t like this sort of thing. I very much understand.

What the hell was that, Courtney Kirkland, Ashley Moyer-Gleich and Derek Richardson? That was putrid, awful, unwatchable, and frankly, unfair work on your part. You made this game miserable. The intensity was there, the desire from both teams was there. Both were up for a good match up. You butchered it, and then stomped out any semblance of enjoyable basketball, and made it all about you. But I guess you saved the Clippers from a further embarrassing slide?

The Rockets got called for 28(!) personal fouls tonight.

Let’s put that number into perspective. In no other contest tonight did ANY other team get called for more than 23. That’s a quarter’s shooting bonus of extra calls, over the next most foul prone team tonight, not the average team, on a very full slate of games.

Maybe the Rockets are just a foul prone team? Not especially. (Their average, which had trended way down lately will spike some now.)

Here are the other Rockets games, starting with the first: 24, 26, 20, 22, 18, 19, 23, 22, 16. I’d call the 26 total, in a game against San Antonio, a bit of “Wembymania” (back when people thought Wemby was interesting, rather than French for Really Tall And Skinny Tim Duncan Who Shoots More Than Jalen Green Did). The Rockets previous average is 21 personal fouls per game.

28 is 33% higher than the Rockets average. So in a game described by all observers as “physical” the Clippers sat, somehow, at 19 personal fouls, roughly 50% less than the Rockets were called for. The Rockets numbers this season show a team starting out too aggressive perhaps, and then getting that aggressiveness under control. 28 is a huge outlier from the trend. The Rockets foul numbers in past games, and this one, match what I saw, and what I saw was some bullshit.

These numbers would be irrelevant, if still tedious, if it appeared the whistle was applied evenhandedly. It wasn’t. I could say more, but I thought the foul total provided some context.

The Rockets were the more aggressive team offensively. They kept attacking despite stuff like this, which was distressingly common. It’s not just what gets called, it’s what doesn’t. This was not a foul on the Clippers. There were quite a few such missed calls.

I know nothing will change, but someone needs to bang a table, and get a fine, because apparently Courtney, Ashley and Derek are operating on last year’s Rockets AND Clippers narrative. The script has flipped. The Rockets aren’t the team that just gets rolled over, that gets the worst officiating crews, and is called like a Jr High team, because it doesn’t matter, they’re not going anywhere anyway. That should be the Clippers. When a game is tight, and James Harden has found some righteous motivation, a thumb on the scale even a little, makes a difference. I was so looking forward to this game, and you ruined it, Courtney.


I don’t think this changes much for the Rockets, or the Clippers, honestly. I think the Clippers will struggle without lots of FT shooting help. I think the Rockets will win despite a poor offense. Tonight mostly made me angry.


Sentimental Metering

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