#2 – Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets absolutely knew they could not stand to go down 0-2 in this best-of-seven series with the L.A. Clippers, so their Game 2 response shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. By now, we all know 94 percent of teams that fall down 0-2 end up losing the series, but these Rockets really couldn’t afford to be facing such odds with the prospect of potentially seeing Chris Paul (hamstring) return to the lineup for the Clippers as both an emotional and on-court boost in front of what will likely be a raucous Staples crowd led by owner Steve Ballmer.
Coach Kevin McHale was highly critical of his team’s overall effort and lackadaisical play on the offensive end following Game 1, and whether the players would acknowledge it or not, the message sure seemed to be received. Not only did they take better care of the ball – just 14 turnovers compared to 23 in the first game – but James Harden was also able to get the benefit of the whistles (15-15 free throws) by returning to a more familiar aggressive style of play rather than settling for quite as many jumpers in their Game 2 win. Dwight Howard continued playing well (24 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks) and made just enough free throws (8-21) to at least make Doc Rivers have to think twice about continuing the ‘Hack-A-Dwight’ tactic.
Trevor Ariza didn’t shoot well, but was still able to provide a double-double performance (15 points, 13 rebounds). Corey Brewer and Josh Smith played somewhat better in the win, but the Rockets could definitely use a couple strong performances in Los Angeles if Houston is going to be able to steal one and snatch home court advantage back from the Clippers.
#3 – Los Angeles Clippers
While there is absolutely no such thing as a moral victory in the playoffs, at least the Clippers can head back to Los Angeles with the knowledge that not only were they not guilty of playing Game 2 as though they were simply happy to get a road split and they had a shot at the end. They were also just a few missed opportunities and possessions where they settled for off-the-dribble jumpers away from winning. They competed and even made things interesting with a big second-quarter surge, but seemed to lack the energy to close things out against a desperate Rockets team.
Blake Griffin, who picked up where he left off following his triple-double performance in Game 1 and was nothing short of spectacular in the first half, struggled for a large stretch of the second half – particularly during that third quarter run that ultimately led to Houston’s victory.
There’s no shame in that, but the Clippers are going to need to find a way to answer the bell and respond to another big game. Even though they’d still have Game 4 to fall back on if it were necessary to win in order to even-up a series, they would prefer to be the ones applying the pressure. Jamal Crawford, while scoring 21 points once again, did really struggle from the field (6-22 FGs, 1-8 from deep) and seemed to press at times. Nights like Game 2 only highlight the potential pitfalls of being shorthanded with a bench rotation that saw Lester Hudson, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu playing 32 combined minutes.
Who Wins Game 3?
The Clippers could really use a boost from both the potential return of Chris Paul as well as from the home crowd in Game 3. A more assertive approach in Los Angeles with less settling for quite as many jumpers along with some defensive adjustments on Harden, and the Clippers should significantly sway the 64-32 free throw attempt advantage Houston enjoyed in Game 2. If Paul’s hamstring will permit him to go after the several days of rest, the Clippers should be in a position to apply pressure to Houston by taking a lead in the series.
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