LOS ANGELES – The Houston Rockets embarrassed themselves Friday night.
The Rockets trail the series 2-1 with another road game looming Sunday night at Staples Center.
This Rockets team has talked a good game about being physical, playing with composure, having some energy and providing a strong defensive game.
Forget it. At best, the Rockets have played just two good quarters, and that came in the Game 2 win. In the 10 other quarters, the Rockets played inconsistently.
“I didn’t think we were very -- we did not play physical tonight,” coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought that we didn’t set good screens. We didn’t get into people. You know, the most disappointing thing is when the game was in the balance; we just had a lot of plays where they outran us. They outworked us.”
Here’s the reality of this seven-game series: The Clippers beat the Rockets on the road minus Chris Paul in Game 1 and were beaten in a foul-filled contest in Game 2. Friday night, with Paul at less than 100 percent, the Rockets allowed Austin Rivers to score a playoff-career-high 25 points off the bench. You know it’s bad when the Staples Center crowd is chanting, “Austin Rivers.”
All those fouls the Clippers griped about following Game 2 weren’t an issue Friday night. The referees let these teams play, and James Harden, who drew nine fouls in Game 2, drove the lane at times trying to land contact, but the refs didn't give him the calls. Harden drew just four fouls in Game 3.
So Harden, who finished with a meaningless 25 points on 16 shots, is left seeking answers as to why he can’t take over some of these games.
“I think I could have been a little bit more aggressive,” he said. “Just too passive. Just too passive.”
Harden fought through the harassment of Redick, and when he drove past Redick, he was met by bigs who refused to let him make shots at the rim. Doc Rivers also noted his team kept its arms and hands back when Harden began a drive so to not pick up fouls.
“A little bit of both,” Harden said on whether the Clippers stopped him or he was thinking too much. “They’re a really good defensive team, especially when they get set. We’ve just got to do a better job of moving the basketball and just being aggressive.”
A third-quarter spurt broke this Rockets team, and McHale said that’s when the composure was lost. The Clippers went on an 18-0 run to end the third quarter; the Rockets went 0-for-7 from the field during this stretch.
There were just bad shot attempts long and short. Among the lowlights: Josh Smith missed a 4-footer and then a 27-foot jump shot. Jason Terry forced a pass to Smith, leading to a turnover and a Redick reverse layup. Terry and Harden missed consecutive 3-point shots, and when the run was over, the Clippers led 99-76.
“Honestly, they just went on a run,” Terrence Jones said. “Defensively, we let up. We let them get energy, and they built off that. We could not stop them after they got rolling.”
It’s not like the Rockets are facing elimination here. These teams will meet Sunday at Staples Center, and the series could be tied up again.
Yet, after watching three games, the Rockets are lucky to be down just 2-1. They suffered a bad home loss in Game 1, for which McHale just ripped the overall effort. A lack of energy in Game 2 was survived by the Rockets' own third-quarter burst and Harden's taking things over.
Now this Rockets team gets blown out on the road in Game 3, a game in which big plays and a physical brand of basketball was needed.
Dwight Howard looked frustrated during several offensive possessions as he failed to get the ball. McHale watched the inconsistency of defensive switches, closeouts on jump shooters and poor ball movement and shot selection.
“We have to do a better job of attacking the basket,” Howard said after scoring 14 points and 14 rebounds while missing 6 of 11 shots. “When you [are shooting] all 3s, it’s just easy run-outs for them. There is no easy opportunity to crash the boards. It just puts us in a bad position. So we have to attack the paint with pick-and-rolls or post-ups, whatever it may be, and then kick out for the 3. Tonight, we didn’t do that, and that’s when they ran away with the lead.”
Whatever is happening to this Rockets team, it needs a major correction -- or a return trip to California won’t be happening.