It didn’t exactly seem like old times. Blake Griffin was back but all over the place and Chris Paul airballed a jumper that could have sent the game into overtime. They were the Clippers in name only Sunday at Staples Center during a 100-98 loss to the Houston Rockets in Griffin’s return after sitting out the previous 15 games while recovering from surgery to have a staph infection removed from his right elbow. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Griffin was back … sort of. There were moments when the All-Star forward looked like himself, but he was mostly out of sorts. He had five turnovers and five fouls in addition to his 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He also barreled into Trevor Ariza for a charge with 12 seconds left and the Clippers down only a point, though he didn’t seem to think he had done anything wrong. “You guys saw it,” Griffin told reporters afterward. “I can’t really say anything about it without getting fined.” The Clippers held a rare practice Monday in an attempt to ease Griffin’s return to the lineup.
2. Houston, we have a rivalry. Clippers forward Matt Barnes flung James Harden to the ground in the second quarter, resulting in a flagrant-1 foul, and Rockets forward Corey Brewer dunked on Griffin early in the fourth quarter, a prelude to a testy exchange that resulted in offsetting technical fouls on each player. Yep, there is some hatred between these teams. The Clippers also spent much of the game complaining to the referees about calls. Griffin had some harsh words for them when he walked off the court after the game. “There were times in the game where I felt like we lost focus a little bit and let other things get in the way,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said.
3. The Rockets got more propulsion off their bench. Brewer had seven points while providing the kind of athletic, springy presence the Clippers are largely missing among their reserves. Clippers small forward Jordan Hamilton was on the way to what looked like a breakthrough, with eight points in his first 11 minutes, before suffering an ankle sprain that forced him to miss the rest of the game. Clippers reserves Nate Robinson and Glen Davis had a few meaningful moments, including a wild tip-in by Davis that triggered a possessed expression from the big man, but there wasn’t much else to be pleased about from the second unit.
4. The Clippers finally lost a home game when J.J. Redick got off to a hot start. Before Sunday, the Clippers had been 19-0 in home games in which Redick had scored at least eight points since he joined the team in the summer of 2013. Redick scored 12 points in the first quarter against the Rockets … and the Clippers lost. Part of the problem was that Redick couldn’t sustain his hot start, scoring just three points the rest of the game. The same thing happened to Barnes, who made all five of his shots in the first quarter on the way to 14 points. He made just two of seven shots the rest of the game and finished with 19 points.
5. The Clippers have some scheduled victories approaching. It’s a great time for the Clippers to be hitting a soft pocket of their schedule after having fallen into a three-way tie with Dallas and San Antonio for the fifth seeding in the Western Conference. The Clippers’ next seven games include just two against teams with winning records — Washington and New Orleans — and both of those games are at Staples Center. The Clippers need to go at least 5-2 to avoid potentially dropping into the seventh spot, which would likely mean a first-round playoff series against the dreaded Memphis Grizzlies.