Takeaways from Clippers' 117-101 Game 1 victory over Rockets

Takeaways from Clippers' 117-101 Game 1 victory over Rockets
Clippers power forward Blake Griffin passes in front of Houston Rockets forward Dwight Howard during the Clippers' 117-101 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on May 4, 2015. (David J. Phillip / EPA)

Houston, you have all sorts of problems. The Clippers defeated the Rockets, 117-101, in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals Monday night at the Toyota Center without star point guard Chris Paul, who was sidelined by a strained left hamstring. Paul's absence didn’t matter as the Clippers received gutsy performances from everyone who set foot on the court. Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. Blake Griffin became the tallest point guard in the playoffs. He was officially listed as a power forward, but there was no doubt who was the Clippers’ primary distributor. “Without Chris on the floor, Blake's our point guard,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Everybody else is just guards. One of the things we told all the guards today is to just be aggressive scorers and let Blake be the facilitator. I thought we did that after we had the turnover fest in the first half.” Griffin finished with 13 assists and helped ignite J.J. Redick, who scored all 17 of his points in the second half. “He gets in the middle of the field and picks people apart, kind of like Tom Brady,” Clippers forward Matt Barnes said of Griffin while referring to the veteran New England Patriots quarterback. “He catches it at the free-throw line, sometimes the three-point line. If you don’t honor him, he will shoot the jumper, or go by you. But if you’re on him he will take that all day and he will find shooters.”

2. Austin Rivers was steady as needed in his first career playoff start while filling in for Paul. Rivers had 17 points, four steals and three assists to go with three turnovers. "I've told people I'm not C.P. and I'm not going to ever be Chris Paul," Rivers said. "I'm Austin Rivers and I can only be myself. I can't run the same sets he does and there are sets that I run that he can't run. We are two different players and two different people. You just have to go be aggressive and have fun. I was so excited [to start]. I honestly was not nervous, I was super excited. I was like, 'Man I can't believe that I'm going to start.' I was like 'woo.' "

3. Remember the Alamo? The Clippers certainly did in channeling the toughness they displayed in their first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs. They shrugged off a 13-point deficit and did not hang their heads after committing 20 turnovers in the first three quarters. “We just came out of a war with San Antonio,” Barnes said. “We were ready to play. It’s just mental toughness. I think that’s been a weakness since I’ve been on this team. It’s something that we continue to grow at, and I think this year of all years, we’re starting to understand what mental toughness is and that’s from the first guy to the 13th guy. We’re never out of a game, we’re very talented offensively. Once we start getting stops we can score.”

4. Five days off didn’t help the Rockets. Somehow, the home team was more sluggish against a counterpart that had been extended to seven games by the Spurs in the first round and had played only 48 hours earlier. “I just really believe that our energy was so low that that’s why they won the game,” Rockets center Dwight Howard said. “I just felt like early in the game we had energy and we played great, but we didn’t sustain it and they were able to capitalize off that and they got a tough win.”

5. James Harden certainly didn't resemble a most valuable player. The "MVP!" chants during Game 1 mostly have been for the Clippers' Lester Hudson, two-time MVP of the Chinese Basketball Assn., considering Harden had more turnovers (nine) than made shots (six) on the way to 20 points for the Rockets. "I'm the catalyst, especially on the offensive end, and I've got to do a better job," Harden said. "Nine turnovers against this team is not going to cut it. I think they had maybe 30 points off our turnovers [34 actually]. "That's giving them easy points, a really good team, just giving them 30 points so we've got to do a better job, especially for myself of making plays, making easy plays."