HOUSTON -- After playing so well in the last week, the Houston Rockets had positioned themselves to make a statement against a team they not only had success against, but felt they could defeat in a first-round playoff matchup.
Then the game started and the Los Angeles Clippers brought the Rockets back to earth with a crushing 122-106 victory on Wednesday night at the Toyota Center. The Clippers never trailed, leading by as many as 24 points, and scored a season-high 72 points in the first half, which included a 35-point first quarter and a 37-point second quarter.
Interim Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff called the point totals “unacceptable,” but James Harden and Jason Terry also spoke truths about what happened on Wednesday and in some ways what has consistently happened with the Rockets all season.
We start with Harden:
“We just weren’t in sync from the beginning of the game," he said. "Personally, myself, I had a terrible game offensively [and] defensively. It wasn’t going well for me. I guess it will be like that sometimes. They got a rhythm early. J.J. Redick [25 points] got going early, and whenever he gets a good start, they’re a really good team. It’s hard to come back from a 21-point deficit.”
Harden often is criticized for his poor defensive play, and there were times he just wasn’t in the same picture as the defense on Wednesday night.
But he wasn’t alone in his poor defensive efforts. Redick beat the Rockets again -- he scored 40 against them on Jan. 18 -- by finishing with 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor. Redick made five 3-pointers, the only starter to make a 3.
Center DeAndre Jordan had a monster game with 23 points, five dunks and 16 rebounds.
Jordan’s counterpart, Dwight Howard, performed badly, scoring six points and making the same amount of field goals (two) as foul shots (two). Howard also had three turnovers and was minus-20 in the box score.
The Rockets allowed a season-high 72 first-half points and fell into a 2-2 series tie with the Clippers after having won four of the previous six games against them.
Houston is now tied with slumping Dallas (losers of six of 10) for the eighth seed. So instead of moving up the standings, Houston remains stagnant. Houston is trying to move itself into a fifth seed and quite possibly take on the Clippers in the opening round. We all remember that fantastic seven-game series from a year ago, and the thinking around the Rockets is they match up well against the Clippers.
A victory over the Clippers on Wednesday -- or even a closer game -- might have changed the narrative for the Rockets. But now, how can anyone believe in this group?
And we move on to Terry:
“We made enough mistakes early on in the game to give them rhythm, to give them confidence,” Terry said. “Once you do that with a team like the Clippers, or any team for that matter, it’s going to be a long night for you. They seemed to want this game more than we did, and it was evident. We’ve got to let this one go, and we have to win on Friday.”
The Rockets will try to get back on track against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hold a 22-46 mark and an 11-24 road record.
Wednesday evening was supposed to be the night the Rockets took care of things. Make a statement. Make a move. Do something.
But the Clippers did the talking.
“It definitely was a surprise,” Terry said. “But again, playing against a Clippers team, they were motivated, they played [Tuesday night], they lost [at San Antonio], and they came in here and they executed on both ends better than we did. It was obvious. They kicked our butt in every facet of the game, from their starters to their bench, so again, we have to take it out on our next opponent.”