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Clippers question free throw disparity with Rockets

HOUSTON -- Blake Griffin looked at the final box score in front of him and just shook his head.

He took a closer look at it and slid his fingers along the free throw numbers just to make sure the stats he read were accurate.

The Houston Rockets (42-for-64) attempted twice as many free throws as the Los Angeles Clippers (25-for-32) and made 10 more than the Clippers even attempted.

"You're not going to win many games when the other team shoots 64 free throws and they make more free throws than we even attempted," Griffin said. "I don't even know if you can equate that to intentional fouling. I think this was a poorly executed game from a lot of different standpoints."

There were many reasons why the Rockets beat the Clippers 115-109 to even their Western Conference semifinal series at 1-1, but the free throw disparity was one that most in the Clippers locker room continued to talk about after the game. Sure, both teams broke out the Hack-a-whoever tactic at times, but in their minds it wasn't enough to account for getting doubled up at the free throw line.

"I don't know if you can equate that to aggressiveness," Griffin said. "I thought we were just as aggressive. At times, we let them off the hook and didn't attack, but I don't think you can equate that to just being aggressive or the intentional fouling. But it's on us. We got to do a better job, I guess, of making it more obvious."

The Clippers outscored the Rockets 41-21 in the second quarter, took a 65-56 lead into the half and went up by as many as 13 in third quarter before they felt the fouls-and-free-throw disparity change the complexion of the game.

"They shot a whole lot of free throws and came back," Matt Barnes said. "It wasn't Hack-a-stuff. They shot 64 free throws, and we shoot 32. If they let us play, it's going to be a good game, but if they're on the line all night, it's going to be tough for us. ... [James Harden] was 15-for-15 from the line. If we can guard him, it will be a battle, but if he's going to sit and live on the free throw line, he's a 90 percent free throw shooter, so it's going to be tough."

Barnes fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter, and two Clippers finished with five fouls, four finished with four fouls and two finished with three fouls.

"They shot 117 free throws," Clippers coach Doc Rivers joked after the game. "The foul trouble hurt us."

Despite the free throw disparity and the Clippers' general unhappiness about the officiating, they were within six points of Houston in the final minutes of the game with the opportunity to steal a second straight game on the road without Chris Paul, who is sidelined with a strained left hamstring.

After the Clippers won Game 1 on Monday, Paul told the team, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." He was more than happy to rest his hamstring a couple more days if the Clippers didn't need him to beat Houston, but it was clear how much they missed their captain in the second half on Wednesday.

Whether it was Austin Rivers dribbling out of control before falling down or Lester Hudson committing turnovers, it was clear the Clippers are going to go only so far with Paul sitting on the bench.

After the game, Rivers hugged Paul, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday. He knew how hard it was for Paul to miss back-to-back playoff games after starting all 82 regular-season games for the first time in his career.

"I just told him we had our shot here tonight in the third quarter," Rivers said. "That little stretch to end the third and the fourth, I thought it was good. I told him to go tell the guys that he's very proud of them, and I thought Chris was."

While Rivers has constantly been asked about Paul's health and possible return date, none of the Clippers mentioned Paul's absence after the game. The Clippers know they will ultimately need Paul if they're going to compete for a championship , but they believe they are good enough to beat the Rockets even if Paul is forced to miss Game 3 on Friday in Los Angeles.

"I mean, this team is capable, very capable," Griffin said. "We have guys that really step up and accept challenges like that. Tonight, we didn't execute there in the second half. I thought we were great in the first half -- well, in the second quarter -- but this team is going to fight no matter who is on the floor."