Rockets go after Clippers' DeAndre Jordan early and often

Houston sends Clippers' DeAndre Jordan to the free-throw line an NBA-playoff-record 28 times in the first half

Grab, pull, tug.

Push, shove, hold.

The Houston Rockets made the mistake of intentionally annoying the bully on the block, who shrugged and clobbered them with lobs and dunks and the kind of resolve that cannot be measured by any analytics savant.

Send DeAndre Jordan to the free-throw line all you want. It won't compensate for every other factor that highlighted the Clippers' continued superiority Sunday evening at Staples Center during a 128-95 thrashing of the Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

The Clippers have won in back-to-back blowouts because they embraced defense and finishing around the rim and another humongous third-quarter surge. Those are concepts that eluded the Rockets once again while they experienced an inexplicable failure to launch for a second-seeded team playing more like a heavy underdog.

"They beat the hell out of us," Houston Coach Kevin McHale said, his reddened eyes wide with disbelief. "Really, I don't know what to tell you."

Here's a good start: It's over now, this series finished like the Rockets' Dwight Howard disappearing into a corridor after another second-half ejection in a playoff game here after similarly quitting on the Lakers in 2013.

Meanwhile, Jordan triggered a standing ovation while being shown on the scoreboard midway through the fourth quarter of a game in which he missed 20 free throws and it didn't matter.

"Great win," Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said afterward, embodying his team's relentless mantra as he walked down a hallway with a sense of purpose and his team holding a 3-1 lead in a conference semifinals for the first time in franchise history.

The Clippers have such a commanding advantage largely because they outscored Houston, 43-25, in a third quarter that featured a variety of Jordan dunks during the rare moments of the game in which the Rockets didn't have their arms wrapped around him.

The Rockets made a mockery of free throws on both sides, converting 15 of 30 tries while initiating their intentional fouling strategy on Jordan only 3 minutes 40 seconds into the game.

"Was it that soon?" Clippers point guard Chris Paul wondered aloud when informed of the time.

Indeed it was, the Rockets trying anything to slow down a game after Howard picked up his second foul early in the first quarter.

"We just wanted to see if we could muck up the game a little bit," McHale said.

The Rockets succeeded on that front, sending Jordan to the free-throw line an NBA-playoff-record 28 times in the first half while unintentionally giving Paul's strained left hamstring additional rest. The second quarter play-by-play required three sheets of paper, so merciless was the Rockets' hacking.

The NBA doesn't need a competition committee for the intentional fouling strategy; it needs an exorcism.

Fortunately, the Clippers' play provided the ultimate retort, the team outscoring the Rockets, 9-0, during one hack-a-Jordan stretch in the second quarter while fans' booing increased in its intensity.

Asked about the Rockets' decision to foul him so early in the game, Jordan smiled and chuckled for about 10 seconds before actually rising from his seat in the postgame interview room. He started to leave before teammate Blake Griffin instructed Jordan to answer the question.

"I just tried to stay focused," Jordan, who made 14 of 34 free throws overall and finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds, said while leaning over a microphone, "and we executed."

Paul, Griffin and Jordan are suddenly one victory away from nudging the once franchise-defining trio of Donald Sterling, Benoit Benjamin and Michael Olowokandi further into the rearview mirror.

The Clippers can close out this series in Houston with a victory in Game 5on Tuesday, and, yes, you have to wonder now whether the first conference finals in franchise history would be a mere stopover on the way to even greater things.

"We want to be able to win nine more games," Jordan said, alluding to the number the Clippers would need to win their first NBA title.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said his team has a scout at the other conference semifinal series between the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors.

"I don't look at them but he files a report every day," Rivers said before mentioning a famed Grizzlies defender. "I don't know what he's saying. My guess is, 'Tony Allen is a monster.'"

The real fiend may be in Rivers' locker room, the Clippers on the precipice of being unleashed on a third playoff opponent that should be very afraid.

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