Chris Paul was back and starting for the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets after missing the first two contests with a strained hamstring. However, Los Angeles was wisely conservative with the superstar point guard’s health, playing him just 23 minutes. CP3 contributed a solid 12 points and seven assists.
Who got the remaining minutes at the 1 spot? Austin Rivers, of course, the man who started Games 1 and 2 in Paul’s stead. In a normal contest, you might expect eight to 10 points from Doc’s son in 23 minutes, the amount of playing time he got in Game 3.
Not on Friday night.
Rivers flashed the big-time scoring ability that made him the No. 10 overall draft pick back in 2012, scoring a career playoff-high 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting, helping lead the Clippers to a 124-99 blowout win over the Rockets at Staples Center.
The 22-year-old guard converted on almost everything he threw up, including and-1 layups, floaters in the lane or step-back three-pointers. He even copied Houston star James Harden‘s “cooking” celebration at one point.
But it wouldn’t be right to ignore the impact of J.J. Redick, the game’s leading scorer, on Game 3. If Rivers was X-factor 1A from Game 3, Redick was definitely 1B. He put in 31 points on 11-of-14 from the field and 5-of-6 from three, getting his points off curls, spot-ups and pull-ups.
Rivers’s and Redick’s offense won the game for Los Angeles, but the score wouldn’t have been so lopsided without the Clippers’ third star: excellent team defense.
Redick was tasked with guarding Harden, his assignment all series. The Beard contributed a solid 25 points on 16 shots with 11 assists, but J.J. made sure Harden had to work for his points and assists. He stayed with the Rockets star well enough on defense that he didn’t need much help from teammates when the Rockets star drove. That meant Redick’s teammates could stay home on three-point shooters and force contested long-range heaves or harmless passing around the top of the key.
Houston’s offense is already known for being somewhat predictable. It relies on lots of high pick-and-rolls with Harden and Dwight Howard, with Harden’s ability to penetrate ideally resulting in a layup, free throws or a kick-out to a spot-up shooter. However, the Rockets weren’t draining their threes on Friday night (a mediocre 11-of-33), so the squad’s offense got easily stagnant. That stagnance looked like it wouldn’t doom Houston for most of the first half and even into the third quarter when the Rockets trailed just 81-76 at one point.
But then came the Clippers run.
In a perfect storm of happenings, Los Angeles scored 23 unanswered points thanks to hot shooting and good defense plus ice-cold shooting from Houston. And, compared to the Rockets’ sets, the Clippers had a bunch of off-ball movement and screening that made them more difficult to defend.
When the Rockets finally scored after six scoreless minutes, it was 104-77 Clippers and garbage time had already started.
Moving forward, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale will need to make some offensive and defensive adjustments. The offense needs some more variety while the defensive rotations could definitely be sharper to prevent the Clippers from shooting 55.4 percent again, like they did in Game 3.