Harden had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists as Houston was able to stave off elimination and win Game 5.
James Harden had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and Dwight Howard had 20 points and 15 rebounds as the Houston Rockets were able to stave off elimination and defeat the Los Angeles Clippers, 124-103, Tuesday night in Houston. Six Rockets scored in double figures as Houston shot 54 percent from the field.
Houston now trails the Clippers 3-2, but the win forced the series back to Los Angeles for Game 6.
The Rockets made a change to their starting lineup for Game 5, inserting Josh Smith, who finished with nine points and seven rebounds, and benching Terrence Jones, and the move paid off. The Clippers hit just nine of the first 30 shots they attempted and allowed the Rockets to go on a 16-4 that went into the second quarter.
“They’re playing so much harder than us now it’s a joke,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said to TNT in an interview after the first quarter.
But three first-half foul calls on DeAndre Jordan sent the Clippers’ best defender to the bench, which allowed the Rockets to have an easy path to the rim. As a result, Houston was able to get every shot it wanted on offense and entered the half leading 63-48.
At the start of the third quarter the Clippers finally found some energy. A 13-4 run led by Blake Griffin, who scored nine of his team-high 30 points during that stretch, cut the lead down to 13 (Griffin was 12-of-21 from the field and also pulled down 16 rebounds). But with Jordan back in the game, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale elected to start fouling him intentionally. That led to a 7-3 Houston run and a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
It was a deficit the Clippers were unable to come back from. With the Rockets continuing to use the Hack-a-Jordan, Los Angeles went 4:15 without a field goal. The Clippers didn’t roll over, but they never seemed interested in ending the series on the road, either. The teams will now head back to Los Angeles for Game 6, which will be Thursday night.
3 things we learned
Josh Smith is kind of a difference maker
Smith was inserted into the starting lineup in Game 5 and responded with his best game of the series. He had nine points, seven rebounds and four assists while also playing good defense on a number of different Clippers. His individual numbers might not show it, but Smith has made Houston’s offense better this series. Going into Game 5, the Rockets were scoring 105.2 points per 100 possessions with Smith on the court, per NBA.com. With him off the floor, that number falls to 90.2. Defense is where the problem’s been for Smith (in the first four games of the series he had a defensive rating of 116.7), but putting Smith in the starting lineup next to Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard helped take care of some of those issues. Look for Kevin McHale to keep Smith in the starting lineup going forward.
Chris Paul is getting healthy
The one silver lining for the Clippers from Game 5 is that Chris Paul is starting to look like Chris Paul. After missing two games with a hamstring injury, and then playing a total of 49 minutes in his first two games back, Paul went 35 minutes Tuesday night and scored 22 points while dishing out 10 assists. He’s not 100 percent yet, but he’s getting there. Austin Rivers has been great this series, and he’s given the Clippers more than they could have expected, but if they’re going to advance to the next round they’re going to need a healthy Chris Paul on the court.
Houston’s at its best when it’s attack is balanced
Six Rockets players scored in double figures on Tuesday. There was Harden (26 points), Trevor Ariza (22), Dwight Howard (20), Corey Brewer (15), Terrence Jones (12) and Jason Terry (11). Josh Smith also added in nine points and Clint Capela had eight. The result was an efficient offense that hit 54 percent of its shots from the field and didn’t allow the Clippers to load up on one player. We’ve already seen that just telling James Harden to create everything himself is a strategy that won’t work against DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the Clippers. The way Houston played in Game 5 is how it needs to play if it wants to advance.