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Five takeaways from the Clippers’ 109-105 loss to the Houston Rockets

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is fouled by Rockets forward James Harden in the first half Saturday.

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is fouled by Rockets forward James Harden in the first half Saturday.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Don’t look now, but the Clippers are already 2-1/2 games behind the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference after a 109-105 loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night at Staples Center. That’s just the nature of the brutally tough West, where every defeat is magnified. Here are five takeaways from the Clippers’ second consecutive defeat:

1) The referees’ final-two-minute report should be interesting. Clippers forward Blake Griffin said he watched multiple replays of his shot with 17 seconds left that Houston’s Dwight Howard touched near the rim. A goaltending call would have tied the score. “That’s textbook goaltending,” said Griffin, who finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, “but they can’t go back and look at it if there wasn’t an actual call on that goaltend or not goaltend, whatever you want to call it. They went and looked at who it was out of bounds off of, so that’s the only thing they can go back and change. So the review didn’t really help us.” Griffin said he didn’t hold the officials culpable. “Listen, reffing games is very hard,” Griffin said. “I tried to ref a Little League camp game this summer and it didn’t go so well, so I know. This game’s going fast. I don’t think any of those guys missed it on purpose, I really don’t.”

2) The Clippers clearly missed the injured Chris Paul. Fill-in starter Austin Rivers and backup Pablo Prigioni combined for only three assists and the offense looked out of sync for much of the game. Both players also struggled with their shooting, with Rivers making four of 12 shots and Prigioni missing all five of his attempts. “It’s just one of those weird nights,” Rivers said. “We weren’t getting any good looks.” The Clippers hope Paul can return Monday against Memphis after sitting out with a strained right groin. They endured far too many empty possessions without him, especially in the third quarter. “That’s where Chris is great because he’ll see that immediately and get us in a set where Pablo and Austin didn’t do that tonight and even when they tried that, I thought the other guys wouldn’t get in sets tonight,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “I just didn’t think we were very organized, which was me. I didn’t think we executed very well and I thought a lot of that was not the point guard, it was just the way we played.”

3) The Clippers’ defensive issues started with an inability to defend James Harden, but they didn’t end there. Harden scored 46 points on 14-for-26 shooting. He also made 13 of 14 free throws, not exactly what the Clippers wanted. “James, it’s like the opposite of our game plan,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said. “Keep him off the free-throw line and take away his layups and take away his threes. He just got everything he wanted tonight. He was awesome.” The Rockets also exceeded the Clippers’ goal of holding an opponent to 23 points or less in every quarter. “They moved the ball really well, they tried to get everybody involved and then when you have a player like James who’s so talented and such a great scorer, he really puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who had 14 rebounds, 11 points and three blocks.

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4) Doc Rivers’ rotations appeared to hurt his team in the second half. At a time when Rockets Coach Kevin McHale was more liberally mixing and matching starters and reserves, Rivers went strictly with second-stringers. He let his bench try to stop Harden over the final two minutes of the third quarter and it didn’t work, Harden scoring eight points over that stretch as the Rockets opened a five-point lead. Rivers then let his reserves have a go at Howard in the opening stretch of the fourth quarter. That resulted in a Howard dunk and an outlet pass to Corey Brewer for another dunk that extended the Rockets’ advantage to 90-80. Rivers questioned his coverages on Harden after the game. “He had 46 points, so clearly we didn’t do our job tonight and that’s more on me than [the players], the way I look at it,” Rivers said. “We wanted to single cover for most of the game and send him different places and he just caught fire early and I know I should have adjusted.”

5) Now the Clippers must prepare to face Matt Barnes. The polarizing small forward returns to Staples Center on Monday with the Memphis Grizzlies five months after the Clippers traded him to the Charlotte Hornets, who flipped him to the Grizzlies. There should be no shortage of drama involving a player who was known for controversial tweets and plenty of technical fouls. “I love Matt,” Jordan said. “Matt’s like a brother to me but for 48 minutes on Monday, I’ll hate Matt. I’m pretty sure if you ask him, he’ll say the same thing.” Said Griffin: “He just kept things loose for us.”


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