The Rockets were in trouble against the Chris Paul-less Clippers, but a second-half run propelled Houston to victory.
Down double digits and staring at two consecutive home losses to a Los Angeles Clippers team missing Chris Paul, the Houston Rockets clawed back to earn a 115-109 victory to tie up the series at a game apiece.
James Harden struggled once again to start the game and dealt with some foul trouble, but the MVP runner-up found a rhythm when he returned to the game in the third quarter after sitting down with four fouls. Harden scored 16 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, with 15 of those 33 points coming at the free throw line.
The charity stripe was a huge story of the game for Houston. The Rockets took a whopping 64 free throws thanks in part to some Hack-a-Howard, and while they made only 42 of those attempts, the sheer amount led to a 42-25 advantage at the line.
While Howard went just 8-of-21 on free throws, he hit two big ones to help ice the game and played well overall. The big man finished with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and he also grabbed 16 rebounds. Trevor Ariza also notched a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 34 points and 15 rebounds, but only eight of those points came after halftime. The Rockets did a much better job denying Griffin the ball, and the looks he did get weren’t all that clean.
Jamal Crawford added 19 points off the bench, but he shot 6-of-22 overall and 1-of-8 from long range. Los Angeles shot just 6-of-25 from three as a team, with Matt Barnes coming back down to earth as well after a strong Game 1.
The Rockets appeared ready to avenge their disappointing Game 1 loss, running out to an 11-point lead after the first quarter on the back of some good work on the offensive glass and some dominance from Howard. Houston didn’t shoot particularly well in the quarter and went 1-of-9 from three in the frame, but eight offensive rebounds (15 for the game) and 10 points from Howard helped the Rockets grab a 35-24 lead after one.
But just like Game 1, that early double-digit lead didn’t stick for Houston. The Rockets’ poor shooting continued, and more issues with ball security cropped up as the Clippers got back into the game. Lester Hudson provided a spark off the bench and Griffin took over, scoring a playoff career-high 26 points in the first half.
With Griffin leading the way, that 11-point deficit turned into a nine-point lead as Los Angeles shot 76.2 percent from the field in a 41-point second quarter. By scoring 65 points in the first half, the Clippers put up 136 points combined between the second half of Game 1 and first half of Game 2.
Things looked dire for Houston when Harden went to the bench with those four fouls early in the third quarter with the deficit at 11. Griffin immediately made it a 13-point game, but the Rockets made their push with Harden on the bench to make it a game again. Thanks to some poor shot selection by the Clippers and a parade to the free throw line for Houston, Los Angeles’ lead was down to two heading into the fourth quarter. The Rockets shot 15-of-25 from the charity stripe in the third quarter.
Houston’s momentum carried into the fourth quarter as Harden got going to help lead the way to victory while holding off the Clippers’ late push. Game 3 is on Friday night in Los Angeles, and the attention again turns to whether or not Paul will be available.
This is obvious, but it’s hard to win playoff games on the road without your best player. Let alone two games in a row. While the Clippers went nuts in the first half behind Griffin’s explosion, things bogged down in the second half when the star power forward was neutralized. Nobody else was able to pick up the slack, and that’s when having a guy like Paul around to pick up that slack is so useful. Los Angeles’ offense simply got too stagnant, leading to a plethora of poor shots, with a bunch coming from Crawford.
The Rockets won this game, but they aren’t going to win this series if they continue to shoot so poorly from long range, especially considering it’s such a big part of what they do offensively. Houston shot just 5-of-26 from long range in Game 2, and that’s after a mediocre 11-of-33 from deep in Game 1. That’s 27 percent through two games in the series, and that likely won’t cut it moving forward.