In Sunday’s Game 4 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan attempted an amazing 28 free throws in the first half, making just 10. The Rockets intentionally fouled Jordan over and over in an attempt to slow down the Clippers’ vaunted offense:
DeAndre Jordan's 28 free throws in 1st half are a playoff record for a half (previous mark of 27 held by @SHAQ)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 11, 2015
As it turned out, the tactic did much more harm to Houston than it did to Los Angeles.
By halftime, the Rockets had turned a 37-30 lead into a 60-54 deficit, spending most of their defensive possessions in that stretch fouling Jordan with a variety of defenders. But through the stretch, Houston gradually lost its offensive rhythm.
The Rockets usually prefer keeping the game quick (they were second in pace during the regular season) and had trouble scoring on Sunday night when they couldn’t get many transition or semi-transition opportunities. The three-point shots started bouncing off the rim more frequently, as shooters were getting cold just standing around during free throw attempts.
After the intermission, the game got worse for the Rockets. Much, much worse.
The hacking on Jordan was toned down (the Clippers center ended 14-of-34 on his freebies), but Los Angeles’ offense repeatedly took advantage of Houston’s out-to-lunch defense in the third quarter. The Clippers on-and off-ball screened the Rockets to death, ending with 43 points in the frame. On the other end, the frustration started to mount for Houston as they had to bring the ball out from underneath the basket nearly every possession. The Rockets had to manufacture offense in the half court, and with their lack of off-ball movement and Jordan’s rim protection, that wasn’t happening
By the end of the third quarter, Houston led 103-79. The entire fourth quarter was extended garbage time, and the final score ended up 128-95. Simply put, it was a bloodbath.
The Rockets’ frustration manifested itself a few times, most notably after Dwight Howard received his sixth foul and promptly got himself ejected as well by throwing the ball at a referee’s feet:
The Clippers’ performance was a great team effort, but Jordan was the main man. He finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds in just 30 minutes, and he also helped limit the Rockets to just 36 points in the paint with his excellent low-post defense. Blake Griffin added 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Chris Paul contributed 15 points and 12 assists.
For the Rockets, James Harden continued his mediocre play with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The numbers look solid, but he’s not being demonstrative enough and not being quite the overall producer of offense he was for much of the regular season.
Harden’s fellow star, Howard, was in foul trouble and only played 18 minutes. But in those minutes, he had just seven points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field and 1-of-6 from the line.
Obviously, the Rockets’ chances at winning the series don’t look good as they’re down 3-1 going back to Houston for Game 5. They’ll need to play with more energy, poise and learn how to defend off the ball. If any one of those doesn’t happen, it’ll be curtains for them on Tuesday night.