Although the Clippers lost again, Tuesday night’s game against the Houston Rockets was closer and more entertaining than expected.
The Rockets won their ninth consecutive game but they had to work hard to defeat the Clippers, 104-95, in front of a vocal crowd of 9,188 at the Sports Arena.
With high-flying rookie Tyrone Nesby leading the way, the Clippers refused to lay down for the streaking Rockets, who led by as many as 22 points in the third quarter but needed some key outside shooting to hold off a late Clipper rally.
Seven Houston players scored in double figures with rookie Michael Dickerson and Brent Price getting a team-high 19 points each. The Clippers, however, had only three players score more than eight points with Nesby scoring a career-high 24 points, Maurice Taylor adding 21 and Darrick Martin 19.
The Clippers, who dropped to 3-26 and have lost nine in a row to Houston, gave the Rockets all they could handle, thanks to the spark provided by Nesby, one of the league’s most underrated rookies.
When asked if his performance against Houston’s Scottie Pippen will help him gain notice around the league, Nesby responded: “I hope so. I’m just going to continue to play hard. Whether people respect me or not, I’m just going to go out and give it all I got to help the team win.”
Winning was not in the cards for the Clippers, especially when Houston outrebounded them, 36-25, and shot 55.2% from the field.
“Our front line has to be ferocious out there under the boards,” Clipper Coach Chris Ford said. “We’re not getting consistent rebounding night in and night out . . . We have to corral some rebounds.”
Taylor’s offense has been a positive for the Clippers but his rebounding has not been good. Against the Rockets, he grabbed only one rebound in 35 minutes. Not quite what you would expect from a starting power forward.
“It’s depressing when I look at stats,” said Taylor, who has grabbed 20 rebounds in a game this season. “I’m not the kind of player I want to be. I’m not being consistent. My game has to mature.”
Considering that Houston attempted 33 free throws compared to the Clippers’ 18, Nesby’s strong play probably kept them from another blowout loss.
Nesby got his career scoring night going when he stripped Pippen outside the Houston three-point line early in the first quarter and slammed home his first dunk. He didn’t stop there, adding three more crowd-pleasing dunks and playing Pippen tough throughout the game.
“I had a great game, but at the same time, I want a ‘W’,” said Nesby, who also had five steals and four rebounds.
"[Pippen] just kept telling me to play hard. He told me he liked my game.”
Hakeem Olajuwon got Houston off quickly with nine points in the first four minutes. At one point he had as many points as the Clippers when Houston led, 15-9.
Martin had 12 first-quarter points and with the help of Nesby, who had a series of outstanding plays--including a rebound dunk--the Clippers trailed only 23-22 at the start of the second.
Backup center Othella Harrington took over for Olajuwon and came through with 11 points in the quarter to help the Rockets open up a 53-39 lead at halftime.
Dickerson and fellow rookie guard Cuttino Mobley then tried to blow the game open as they combined to score the Rockets’ first 14 points of the third quarter and the Clippers suddenly found themselves down, 61-39, at one point early in the quarter.
That’s when Taylor and Nesby led the Clippers’ second comeback. They slowly rallied to cut the Rockets’ lead to under 10 points but Price made a couple of field goals to keep Houston ahead, 78-67, heading into the fourth.
The Clippers tried to make one more rally but each time they got close, Price or Dickerson would make an open perimeter shot.
With the Rockets making their final appearance in the Sports Arena before the Clippers’ scheduled move to the Staples Center next season, Charles Barkley, who had 12 points and 14 rebounds, expressed his feelings.
“This place? Nothing positive,” he said of the Sports Arena. “O.K., I want to say something positive. It’s positively a dump.”