How the Los Angeles Clippers Shocked the Houston Rockets and Won Game 1
When Coach Doc Rivers announced that star point guard (or God, whichever you prefer) Chris Paul was officially out with a strained hamstring for Game 1 of the Clippers' second-round matchup with the Houston Rockets, the NBA world tempered its collective expectation for the matchup.
Man, were we wrong. Not only was the game competitive and exciting from the end of the first quarter on but the Clippers, 7.5-point underdogs heading into Houston, somehow won the game by 16 points.
The Clippers hung 117 on the Rockets in their own gym while holding James Harden and company to 101 points, three points under their season average.
As a Clippers fan, I couldn't even believe it. I didn't know how they did it, so I can only imagine how confused the average NBA fan is. But he or she might say that Blake Griffin's triple-double had everything to do with it.
That's not entirely true.
Don't get me wrong, Griffin's monster night had a lot to do with the Clippers' success, but there's so much more to it -- and when and if you looked at the boxscore today you'd see why.
The Foul Game
As Brandon Gdula pointed out in an article yesterday, on the year, the Rockets draw a ton of fouls and the Clippers foul a lot. Little did we know that the two teams would switch uniforms prior to tip. The total opposite happened in last night's game.
The Rockets committed three more fouls than the Clippers while Los Angeles exceeded Houston -- and their own season average -- in free throw rate (.357 to .286).
James Harden was also held to just six free throws -- that's four below his season average. As a result, the Clippers outshot the Rockets from the line. The Clippers went 22 of 30 (73.3%) from the charity stripe compared to the Rockets' 14 of 24 (58.3%). That battle is summarized by the "hack-a" battle between Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan hit 6 of 11 while Howard managed just 4 of 9. As boring as it was to watch, the strategy ended up playing a pretty big role in the outcome of the game.
The Passing Game
Both teams are really efficient, well-oiled offensive machines, and both have some great passers on their team. The Rockets have Harden and Smith while the Clippers have Paul and Griffin. Somehow, despite averaging over two more assists per game than their counterpart, the Clippers are the less talked about passing team, in large part due to the iso game of Jamal Crawford.
Last night, the Clippers (mainly Blake Griffin) put on a passing display, dishing out 31 assists to the Rockets 24. This created some highly efficient shots, especially from beyond the arc, for the LA shooters, and was a big reason for the upset victory.
The Long-Range Game
To the common fan's surprise, the Clippers are a better three-point shooting team than the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are widely known for their three-point shooting. And why not? They attempt more of them per game than anyone in the league (32.7). However, someone should tell Mr. Morey that you have to make those shots for them to be so efficient.
On the season, the Clippers rank third in three-point percentage while the Rockets rank just 14th in the same category. So, to say the Clippers stole a page from the Rockets playbook wouldn't exactly be true. They did what they've done all year. They made 13 threes while shooting over 41% from distance. But they also held the Rockets to 11 three-point connections, just below their season average of 11.4.
The Clippers won these three crucial phases of the game, and when their fearless leader returns, we all know it will be that much harder for the Rockets to stop them.