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Rockets Squander Golden Opportunity as Chris Paul-less Clippers Take Game 1

Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports

All of the circumstances were stacked against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets were playing at home. The Clippers had just finished a grueling seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs just two nights earlier while Houston had been off for nearly a week. Los Angeles’ star point guard, Chris Paul, was also out with a hamstring injury.

And yet, the Clippers took Game 1 in decisive fashion by a score of 117-101. Blake Griffin provided all the playmaking Los Angeles needed in CP3’s absence, with 13 assists to go with 26 points and 14 rebounds. His squad poured on the offense in the second half, putting in 71 points (to the Rockets’ 51) on the strength of 11-of-16 shooting behind the arc in the half.

Some back-and-forth “Hack-a-Howard” and “Hack-a-Jordan” in the fourth quarter was comical to behold, but, in general, the level of play paled in comparison to what might be expected of a Western Conference second-round series.

In fact, the one word that describes this game best is “turnovers.”

In a fast-paced contest that frequently crossed the line from sloppy to ugly, both squads had a difficult time staying under control. Houston had 24 giveaways and Los Angeles had 23. But it was the Rockets who were consistently slower to get back on defense, which resulted in 34 points off turnovers for the visiting Clippers.

You wouldn’t think Los Angeles would be so sharp after all it had gone through against San Antonio, but it was for the most part, both mentally and physically. The Rockets, on the other hand, looked shell-shocked going against a team that actually had the athletes to contend with their pick-and-roll heavy offense, unlike their first-round opponent, the Dallas Mavericks. Houston ended up forcing several terrible passes and jacking up bad shots as a result.

When the Clippers were on offense, the Rockets were consistently slow on rotations and let shooters and cutters get to their spots unattended numerous times throughout the game. Matt Barnes had 20 points and CP3’s replacement, Austin Rivers, and J.J. Redick both chipped in 17. All of those totals were aided by the squad’s excellent ball movement (31 assists), perhaps something picked up from their previous series against the Spurs.

The Rockets’ leader, James Harden, set the tone for the game early with his frequent turnovers, and he ended up with nine for the game. He did total 20 points and 12 assists, but he’ll have to do more if the Clippers continue to guard him with Redick.

If you’re a Clippers fan, you have to look at this game as a massive win. Not only did your squad take away home-court advantage, but it did it with its best player sidelined. If Paul is still not feeling good to play Wednesday, Los Angeles can feel good resting him knowing the worst it can do in Houston is a 1-1 split.

On the Rockets’ side, a few things did go right in a disappointing overall performance. Trevor Ariza found his shot, going 7-of-13 for 18 points. Heading into the contest, Ariza’s playoff shooting slash was .289/.227/.833. Dwight Howard also got a lot of what he wanted inside, with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. He’ll have to stay engaged against a tough cover in DeAndre Jordan, though, to help Houston rebound from this awful effort.

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