#2 – Houston Rockets
It wouldn’t be fair to call Houston’s Game 1 performance “embarrassing,” but given the fact that the Clippers were coming off a physically and emotionally draining seven-game series against the defending champions and were without the services of Chris Paul, the outcome had to at least a bit disappointing for a rested team with home court advantage. Dwight Howard (22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks) continued to play well, but James Harden continued to struggle to find his groove against the Clippers – as has been the case throughout the season. On the surface, his 20 points and 12 assists were far from pedestrian by any stretch, but he was unable to draw the contact he has been accustomed to all year (attempting just six free throws), and Harden knows he cannot afford to approach double-digit turnovers (nine in Game 1) and expect to beat this spirited Clippers team.
Houston also can ill-afford to see Corey Brewer and Josh Smith combine to go 6-24 from the field, including 1-10 from beyond the arc. Those two had been pivotal for Houston down the stretch of the regular season and really found ways to assert themselves offensively in their first round match-up against the Dallas Mavericks. If the two of them are unable to get things going in this series, then it may be some really tough sledding for that starting unit to keep pace with all of the offensive firepower Los Angeles’ core group can bring.
#3 – Los Angeles Clippers
By now, you’ve probably heard just about every variation of “these aren’t your father’s Clippers” or something to that effect. Trouble is, as cliche as that may sound, that’s exactly the case. This core group, while certainly not deep, has clearly grown together over the past few seasons. Chris Paul may have been absent from the court, but this team has finally adopted much of his personality and all-out desire to win no matter the odds.
If Blake Griffin is able to provide the type of well-rounded effort he opened the series with, then Los Angeles should be able to weather the storm until Paul (hamstring) is able to return to action. Put simply, Griffin was phenomenal (26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists) on the night, and his frontcourt mate DeAndre Jordan also managed to provide just enough to instantly force the Rockets back onto their collective heels to start the series. Matt Barnes (20 points, five rebounds, four steals and two blocks) continues to be a bit of an unsung hero, as he has more than held his own in his playoff match-ups and also plays a pivotal role as one of the team’s emotional spark plugs.
Austin Rivers had another impressive game in terms of productivity in relief of Paul, and Jamal Crawford was up to his usual antics (21 points, four rebounds and five assists) off the bench. The offense is great, but this group truly goes from ‘exciting’ to ‘dangerous’ when they are able to put forth a unified and consistent defensive effort along with knocking down those shots.
Who Wins Game 2?
As crazy as this may have seemed just a few months ago, let alone a number of years ago, the Clippers could really make things tough for the Rockets if they are able to steal another one in Houston. We’ll see if they’ve fully adopted the mentality of a title team in Game 2. We’ll also see what these Rockets are truly made of, as we expect them to find a way to even the series before heading back to Los Angeles.
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