Doc Rivers said his team must be about the finish and it was. It was about finishing its hopes of securing a second road victory in this series.
DeAndre Jordan said there was a need to stick to principles, and if he was referring to that old Clippers' method of finding a way to crumble, he was spot on.
The Clippers closed out nothing but their hopes for a quick and tidy conclusion to the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night at Toyota Center, a 124-103 loss to the Rockets in Game 5 adding some drama back into the series.
"I know that's not the team that I have gotten accustomed to watching play," said Rivers, whose team became the first in NBA playoff history to win consecutive games by at least 25 points and then lose by 20 or more points in the same series.
The Clippers will return to Staples Center for Game 6 on Thursday holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and the pressure having reverted a bit to a team that is still seeking its first trip to the conference finals.
"Sort of throw this one away and go back home and try to close it out there," Paul said.
The Rockets overcame the mental strain of back-to-back blowouts in the previous two games in Los Angeles, finally playing like a second-seeded team instead of a discombobulated minion.
Strong games from Paul (22 points , 10 assists) and Blake Griffin (30 points, 16 rebounds) were not enough to save the Clippers on a night a foul-plagued Jordan was limited to 24 minutes and the perimeter trio of J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford combined to make six of 30 shots.
"I just didn't like how we played offense," Rivers said. "I didn't recognize a lot of the things we were running."
Rivers yanked his starters with 3 minutes 43 seconds left and his team trailing by 17 points, a late surrender in a game that had been tilting heavily in the Rockets' direction since late in the second quarter.
Houston center Dwight Howard made a gigantic impact one game after being a non-entity, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Guard James Harden looked like a runner-up for most valuable player for the first time in the series despite a cold, notching a triple-double: 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Clippers also slogged through a few minor injuries, with Barnes nursing a sore ankle and hip and reserve Austin Rivers sustaining a hip pointer.
It was first game in the series in which the Clippers did not hold a double-digit lead, their largest advantage a measly three points in the first quarter. Jordan picked up his second foul with 4:24 left in the quarter and was largely a non-factor.
"The same thing happened to Dwight the last game," said Jordan, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. "I guess it was my turn."
The Clippers won the third quarter, outscoring the Rockets, 28-27, but for the first time in the series it wasn't a predictor of the outcome. With his team trailing by as many as 23 points in the second half, Rivers tried one last comeback tack by sending Howard, Smith and Corey Brewer to the free-throw line but it made no difference.
Houston finished the first half on a 15-2 run, Harden's 17-foot jumper in the final second giving the Rockets a 63-48 lead. They were on their way to launching some renewed interest in a series that had been nearly all Clippers before Tuesday.
"We came out like we were supposed to win this game," Jordan said. "We didn't have the same fight that we did before."
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