In a tight battle between two of the NBA's highest scoring teams, the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Houston Rockets 101-93 in a highly anticipated Western Conference showdown at the Staples Center on Wednesday.
This game lived up to the hype, with fast-paced action at both ends of the floor and competitive fire that served as a resemblance to a playoff atmosphere. Even though L.A. led by just one point at 74-73 through three quarters, the game may as well have been called then.
Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com pointed out how the Clippers were 21-0 at home this season when entering the fourth quarter:
Darren Collison scored 17 of his 19 points off the bench in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter to give the Clippers a jolt down the stretch. All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul had strong showings, with Griffin scoring 23 points and grabbing 16 rebounds and Paul continuing sensational distributing in dishing nine assists and turning it over just once.
Rockets center Dwight Howard matched Griffin with a game-high 23 points, but since he was the only strong rebounding presence for the visitors, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were able to help the Clippers gain the edge on the glass.
It looked as though the hosts would run away with it when they got off to a 17-4 run to start the night off, with all five starters pitching in during that span, per ESPN's Arash Markazi:
But Houston's talented bunch banded together for an early rally, taking its first lead when point guard Jeremy Lin nailed a three-pointer to make it 29-28 with under 9:30 to go in the second quarter:
Considering the Rockets were in the last of a five-game, nine-day road trip, they put up a good fight in rival territory.
But there was a marked sloppiness to the way Houston played, as it turned the ball over a total of 20 times.
The Clippers were also out of sync until the fourth, in large part due to the absence of star guard Jamal Crawford, who exited the game toward the end of the first half with a strained left calf and did not return:
Crawford had been lighting it up with eight straight 20-point efforts entering Wednesday, per BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy:
With Crawford (2-of-10 shooting, eight points) gone for good on the evening after just 16 minutes, his team struggled to play with much conviction in the third quarter, but still managed 28 points due to the quickened pace.
The player who helped compensate for the 33-year-old's void was backup point guard Collison, forming a small backcourt with his superstar superior in Paul and making it work.
The Orange County Register's Dan Woike pointed out how Collison helped frustrate Rockets superstar James Harden, who put up 13 points in the first half but had little to show for it in a losing cause:
Two big three-pointers from Collison and Jared Dudley put L.A. up 82-76 with 9:18 remaining for its largest lead of the second half to that point, and the Rockets couldn't get any closer. Doc Rivers implored his Clippers to defend, and that's precisely what they did when they had to over the course of the final 12 minutes. It was left to Collison to take over on offense, and it turned out to be a winning formula.
Here is a look at some of the game's notable performers, along with a brief peek at what lies ahead for each of these Western contenders.
Darren Collison, G, Los Angeles Clippers: A
What makes Collison's eruption down the stretch all the more impressive is that both Crawford and J.J. Redick weren't around to spell him. Given a rare opportunity to showcase his skills, Collison did just that and carried L.A. to this win.
Collison gets knocked for whatever reason and sees his role diminish season after season. Perhaps that should change, if Wednesday's performance in crunch time was any indication.
Jordan Hamilton, F, Houston Rockets: A
Having just arrived from the Denver Nuggets in a trade, Hamilton has fit in nicely in Houston thus far, providing a key spark off the bench when some of Houston's other stars are having an off night.
The new atmosphere seems to have given Hamilton a lift, but this just looked like a worn-out Rockets squad by the end of the night, and the rest of Hamilton's teammates couldn't match the intensity he brought to the court.
Blake Griffin, F, Los Angeles Clippers: B
The former No. 1 overall draft pick had a double-double by the end of the first half with 12 points and 11 rebounds and continued to display a high energy level all evening. All that prevents Griffin from getting an "A" is his 25 shot attempts and 23 points—not the most efficient he could have been.
No one can say Griffin is just a dunk artist anymore, because he's developed a rather complete game, even incorporating underrated passing ability into his arsenal. His dominance up front continues to boost his profile as one of the premier power forwards in the game.
Chandler Parsons, F, Houston Rockets: D
The only redeeming moment in Parsons' night (3-of-13 shooting, seven points) was when he nailed a three to respond to one Collison had hit at the other end, cutting it back to a two-possession game late. On the next Houston possession, though, Parsons was readying for another shot from beyond the arc but fumbled it out of bounds for a turnover.
For a player who is so consistent and continues to thrive as one of the most underpaid but valuable players in the Association, this just wasn't Parsons' night. At least it created a chance for Hamilton to show he could contribute in the rotation.
The Rockets (39-19) will seek to recover on Saturday at the Toyota Center, when they take on the dysfunctional Detroit Pistons. An opponent from the Eastern Conference and home cooking is just what Houston needs after a grueling road trip ended in a disappointing defeat in Los Angeles.
This was a big win for the Clippers (40-20), and it proved that Collison and the rest of the Clippers could continue stepping up regardless of who is missing. Another home game awaits on Saturday, this time against the 23-34 New Orleans Pelicans.