Chris Paul out but other Clippers go all in to rout Rockets in Game 1

Chris Paul sits with hamstring strain but Blake Griffin and Co. take up slack as Clippers beat Houston 117-101

Blake Griffin provided everything the Clippers usually receive from Chris Paul.

There were the passes, Griffin routinely finding his teammates for shots they couldn't create on their own.

There was the leadership, Griffin giving a halftime address and calling for a huddle on the court midway through the fourth quarter.

And there was the finish, Griffin grabbing three rebounds and making two free throws in the final 21/2 minutes of the Clippers' stunning 117-101 victory over the Houston Rockets in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals Monday night at Toyota Center.

Griffin even briefly imitated Paul in a way that irritated Clippers Coach Doc Rivers.

"I got on him because he started doing the Chris thing," Rivers said, referring to the star point guard he held out because of a strained left hamstring. "He stopped looking to score and I told him, at one point, 'We need you to do everything,' and he did it."

Griffin was strong in every category, finishing with 26 points on nine-for-19 shooting, 14 rebounds and 13 assists — his third triple-double in eight playoff games.

The big showing helped the Clippers win without their primary leader on the road against a team coming off nearly a week of rest.

"My main message throughout the entire game was to stay together," Griffin said. "There was no reason for us to crumble and fall apart."

The Clippers didn't despite committing 20 turnovers through the first three quarters and trailing by as many as 13 points. They used a 12-0 surge midway through the fourth quarter that featured two three-pointers by Matt Barnes and one by Jamal Crawford to quiet a crowd that was roaring only moments earlier. Griffin had assists on two of the three-pointers.

Paul high-fived Griffin and smiled after the Rockets called a timeout during the decisive run that gave the Clippers a 101-88 lead. Dressed in a green jacket with a black collar, Paul was demonstrative the entire game on the bench, continually encouraging his teammates.

"Without Chris, everybody has to step up," Griffin said. "It's not one person's job, it's all of our jobs. I think if you look at the stat sheet and the way we played tonight, it was everybody."

Just about. Crawford had 21 points off the bench and Barnes scored 20. Austin Rivers, making his first career playoff start, had 17 points, four steals and three assists to go with three turnovers, and DeAndre Jordan had 10 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

That more than offset Dwight Howard's 22 points for Houston. Rockets shooting guard James Harden scored 20 points on a shaky six-for-13 shooting in his first game since finishing second to Golden State's Stephen Curry in balloting for the NBA's most valuable player award.

Houston's athleticism presented a vastly different challenge for the Clippers than the San Antonio Spurs' fundamentals and smarts in the first round, a series that went the full seven games. But the Rockets were also sloppy with the ball, committing 24 turnovers to the Clippers' 23.

Rivers said he decided to hold Paul out because of concern that he might re-aggravate the injury.

"If you re-injure that," Rivers said, "then you're done and it's not worth the risk."

Rivers said he was unsure if Paul would play in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Paul, who did not speak with reporters Monday, sustained the injury Saturday in the first quarter of Game 7 against the Spurs.

Rivers said Paul talked to him about possibly playing but Rivers didn't want to hear it.

"There are certain things, a knee or something, and you say, 'OK, we'll see what you've got,'" Rivers said. "This is one of those, 'I don't want to see what you have because if you're wrong, then you're wrong for the series and it's not worth the risk.'"

Ultimately, the Clippers showed that they had the resolve to persevere without Paul.

"I don't know if we stay together like that earlier in the season," Griffin said. "The ups and downs of the playoffs, the battle we had in the first round is an invaluable lesson. You can't get that type of experience, being down on the road early and staying with the game plan.

"We didn't change our game plan, we played harder, we played smarter and we kept chipping away."

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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