In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Monday between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, one statistical category told the story of the game: turnovers. The teams combined for 47 miscues, making for a sloppy, fast-paced game. The Clippers ultimately played a bit cleaner, winning 117-101.
A different stat came to the forefront in Wednesday’s Game 2 between the squads: free throws. Houston and Los Angeles combined for 96 shots from the charity stripe, with 64 of them belonging to the Rockets:
Houston's 64 free throw attempts are most in a playoff game since 1993 (Suns had 64 attempts vs SuperSonics)
Even series with Clippers 1-1
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 7, 2015
Not surprisingly, this game was placed at a slower pace. Which team did the slower tempo benefit?
It was the Rockets who came out victorious on Wednesday, as they took on a strong attack mindset right from the opening tip to even the series at one game apiece with a 115-109 Game 2 win.
By the 9:30 mark of the first quarter, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan had picked up two fouls and had to be substituted out of the game. His very early foul trouble created a ripple effect throughout the game; when he was out, the Rockets attacked the rim with abandon, which resulted in fouls for Los Angeles’ other players as they had to prevent easy layups and dunks.
And despite all of this, for a large chunk of the contest, the Chris Paul-less Clippers actually looked like they were going to steal a second game in Houston.
In the first half, Blake Griffin had all he could eat for Los Angeles. He scored 26 points before the intermission, abusing any and every Houston defender for mid-range jumpers, push shots in the lanes and violent dunks:
In the second quarter, Clippers were moving the ball and getting good shots while the Rockets were settling for contested deep jumpers and giving the rock back to Los Angeles.
In one 10-minute stretch in the second period, Los Angeles outscored Houston 33-13. By halftime, the Clippers led 65-56, fighting back from an early 11-point deficit.
The tide turned back toward Houston early in the third quarter when James Harden exited the game with his fourth foul. Houston started to move the rock better without its ball-dominant star on the court, getting good looks from the outside and LOTS of foul-drawing drives to the rim. Los Angeles, on the other hand, became the team the Rockets were in the second quarter by taking inefficient shots and letting the ball stick.
Houston finally took its first lead since the second quarter with 10:26 to go in the game when Trevor Ariza nailed a three-pointer to make it 90-88. Harden knocked down a huge trifecta of his own on the very next possession to give his squad a five-point lead:
From then on, it was a steady diet of rim-attacking and Hack-a-Dwight to close the game for the Rockets, who ended up taking a whopping 43 of their free throws after halftime.
Griffin finished with 34 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, but was largely ineffective in the second half. Jamal Crawford had 19 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there.
Providing the biggest performances for the triumphant Rockets were the usual suspects: Harden (32 points, seven assists) and Dwight Howard. (24 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks)
The series now moves to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4. Despite Wednesday night’s loss, the Clippers still possess home-court advantage due to their Game 1 win.
Paul’s hamstring injury status is still up in the air:
Doc said he thinks Chris Paul will play in this series but he doesn't know when. He's still not sure about Game 3.
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 7, 2015
This will obviously be key moving forward.