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Energy, Depth Help Rockets Close Clippers’ Series Lead to 3-2

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

All it took was a little extra pep in the Houston Rockets’ step Tuesday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thanks to energetic play, Houston built a first-half lead on its home court and gradually extended the margin after the intermission to finish with a 124-103 victory. The Clippers now lead the series 3-2.

Right from the tip, the Rockets showed the resolve of a team facing elimination and the activity of a team playing in front of its home crowd. With the Clippers’ frigid 9-of-30 shooting in the first quarter, Houston took the misses and quickly whipped the ball past half court in hopes of a fast-break bucket.

Most of the time, their attempts to speed up the tempo worked.

The Rockets outscored the Clippers 17-3 in fast-break points, and when they didn’t convert that way, they were busy attacking the rim early in their half-court possessions. Unlike Game 4, when the ball stuck to Houston ball handlers for several seconds at a time, the Rockets’ slashers made their drives and/or passes quickly to prevent Los Angeles’ defense from setting up.

To that point, the paint clearly belonged to Houston on Tuesday night. The Rockets had a 58-39 rebounding advantage over the Clippers and also led 64-46 in points in the paint:

A big reason for this was Houston getting DeAndre Jordan in early foul trouble. The Clippers big man had two fouls in the first eight minutes of the game, then picked up his third less than two minutes into his second-quarter stint. He then sat the rest of the first half.

For the game, Jordan ended up breaking even in terms of his plus-minus on the court, which suggests he may have been able to change the outcome of the game had he avoided his early fouls.

However, the big difference in the game, in addition to the Rockets’ inside dominance, was depth. Both teams’ two main stars showed up, but only Houston got meaningful production from its role players.

Which two players led the Houston attack? James Harden and Dwight Howard, of course. Harden had a triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) while Howard chipped in 20 points and 15 boards. But Trevor Ariza had 22 points, Corey Brewer had 15, Terrence Jones had 12 and Jason Terry had 11 to help the cause.

For the Clippers, Chris Paul was his usual dominant self (22 points and 10 assists) and Blake Griffin was even better with 30 points and 16 rebounds, but no one else besides Jordan (13 points) and Spencer Hawes (11 points) were in double figures.

Coming into the series, Houston’s role players looked much better than Los Angeles’ reserves, and now they’re finally playing like it. That’ll certainly be an interesting trend to follow in Game 6. (And Game 7, if it happens.)

This game was a blowout, but so were the previous two contests in favor of Los Angeles. It’s hard to tell if this was a legitimate momentum shifter in the Rockets’ favor or if the Clippers let up knowing they can close out the series on their home court in Game 6.

Either way, we’ll find out Thursday night in Los Angeles.

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