Clippers’ uninspired play ends with another loss to the Rockets
The Clippers didn’t have to walk off the court dodging confetti and streamers, which qualified as possibly the only upside in their return to the scene of their most recent playoff demise.
They came out oddly uninspired Saturday night against the team that had ousted them here in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, playing negligible defense and neglecting to rebound.
A few rallies and lots of intentional fouling rounded out the Clippers’ 107-97 loss to the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center that completed a winless two-game trip.
“We’re not a team that anybody needs to be worried about, I’ll tell you that,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “Not right now.”
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers staggered his starters with his reserves to start the fourth quarter in an effort to roust his team from a 12-point deficit. It didn’t make any difference as the Rockets extended their lead to as many as 22 points.
In the play that signified the way things were going, Houston’s Dwight Howard blocked a shot by Austin Rivers and then dunked in transition, the decibel level reaching levels reminiscent of the playoffs.
“We came out with no energy, no intensity on both ends of the floor,” Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. “This loss was on the starters. We came out and we didn’t establish anything, really.”
Doc Rivers went with a white-flag lineup that included the seldom-used Cole Aldrich and Pablo Prigioni over the final six minutes. Adding injury to insult, Austin Rivers turned his right ankle and had to be helped to the locker room by Paul and trainer Jasen Powell. Doc Rivers said his son, who was walking on crutches after the game, suffered a second- or third-degree sprain, meaning he could be out for an extended period.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin scored 22 points on an efficient nine-for-13 shooting and Jordan had 11 rebounds to go with his 16 points, which came partially as the result of making four of 12 free throws.
But Paul (12 points, 10 assists, seven steals) and J.J. Redick (19 points) combined to make only nine of 27 shots and the Clippers could seemingly only stop the Rockets from scoring with ease when they intentionally sent them to the free-throw line.
Howard took 16 free throws and made six on the way to finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds. James Harden had 18 points on four-for-13 shooting for the Rockets, who easily withstood his off night.
The Clippers were already down by 21 points after a first quarter that went about as poorly as possible. Luc Mbah a Moute hoisted a three-pointer from the corner that hit the side of the backboard and Wesley Johnson airballed a three-pointer a few minutes later.
Houston’s Trevor Ariza scored on a layup only eight seconds into the game after sneaking behind the defense on the jump ball. The most damning statistic was that the Clippers collected only five rebounds in the quarter, one less than the Rockets had offensive rebounds. Houston outrebounded the Clippers, 55-38, for the game.
“This was one through 12 tonight,” said Doc Rivers, who considered removing his starters in the first half. “I just thought we were flat, lacked energy.”
Things somehow got worse in the second quarter. Houston backup power forward Terrence Jones, of all people, made a three-pointer at the end of the shot clock while wide open. The Rockets went up by 26 points and hardly seemed to miss point guard Ty Lawson, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension after his arrest on suspicion of drunk driving.
It felt like the end of an eight-game trip for the Clippers, who had one home game last week sandwiched between five consecutive road games and their just-completed two-game trip to San Antonio and Houston.
“When you fly for one game and check into your ‘hotel’ home and then you leave, that’s a road game,” Doc Rivers said before the game. “That’s the way I viewed it. I’ll be glad to get home, I’ll tell you that, but then we’ve got a tough game when we get home.”
That would be against Oklahoma City on Monday in another reminder of past playoff failures.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter: @latbbolch
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.