The Clippers fell flat in their first closeout opportunity Tuesday, looking defeated from nearly tipoff of a 124-103 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night at Toyota Center in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers left their dogged demeanor back in Los Angeles. Bad offensive possessions spilled over onto the defensive end and everything seemed out of whack for a team that had hummed along for the series’ first four games. “We didn’t move the ball as well as we usually do,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “That starts with me and on the defensive end too. I think we were out of character a lot of times. We broke a lot of our principles, especially me. I would call a few plays where I helped when I shouldn’t have helped and every time I did, I left Jason Terry wide open for threes.”
2. The Rockets showed their usual resolve after back-to-back losses. They have still not lost three consecutive games this season, going 8-0 after consecutive defeats. Houston Coach Kevin McHale tried to shake his team out of its series-long funk by starting Josh Smith, but it was fellow starter Trevor Ariza who unexpectedly helped revive the Rockets with 22 points and eight rebounds. Rockets shooting guard James Harden logged a triple-double and Dwight Howard bounced back in a big way from his Game 4 ejection, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
3. The Paul second-round narrative just won’t die. The eight-time All-Star who has not made it past the conference semifinals in his 10 NBA seasons still has to live with that mental burden until the Clippers win another game. The same could be said for the Clippers, who haven’t gotten past the second round in their 45 years of existence. Paul and the Clippers have two more games to fashion a plot twist.
4. The Clippers became even more banged up. Forward Matt Barnes is suffering from hip and ankle injuries and backup guard Austin Rivers sustained a hip pointer after falling in a heap at the end of the third quarter. New injuries were not what the Clippers needed with Paul already nursing a strained left hamstring.
5. Game 6 might as well be Game 7 for the Clippers. Road teams are 24-95 in Game 7s in NBA playoff history, so the Clippers will need to win Thursday night at Staples Center to avoid putting themselves in position for a complete collapse. They presumably spent much of Wednesday thinking about all the ways they blew their opportunity in Game 5. “It needs to affect us and we need to think about it and we need to improve upon it, but we have a game Thursday and all that goes out the window,” Griffin said. “It’s a brand-new opportunity and we have to be better.”