James Harden, Chris Paul Lead Rockets to 101-96 Win over Clippers

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2018

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) goes up for a shot as LA Clippers' Tobias Harris (34) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 15, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 101-96, in a possible first-round playoff preview Thursday night at Toyota Center. 

While it wasn't a typical Rockets (54-14) performance rife with threes and bounding end-to-end action, the Western Conference's No. 1 seed overcame a sluggish start and rode the contributions of five double-figure scorers to a third straight win. 

James Harden stuffed the stat sheet with a team-high 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds, and his mid-range step-back jumper that put Houston up four with 29.4 seconds remaining proved to be the dagger. 

Eric Gordon added 23 points off the bench, and he proved clutch with seven of Houston's 12 threes on a night when the Rockets shot 29.3 percent from beyond the arc. 

On the interior, center Clint Capela helped swing the result in the Rockets' favor by dominating his matchup with DeAndre Jordan. 

Looking bouncy as ever, the 23-year-old posted 19 points (9-of-16 shooting), 12 rebounds and a career-high six blocks as he helped anchor Houston on both ends of the floor.

"They've done a great job with him, if you look from two years ago to now," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said before the game, according to SportsTalk 790's Ben DuBose. "He's a solid scorer in the post. It's not just his rolls and dunks. He's scoring over people.

"He plays hard and the right way every night, and that's pretty impressive."

Thanks, in part, to Capela's rim protection, the Rockets became the first team to hold the Clippers under 100 points this month. 

In fact, L.A. owned the league's No. 1 offense (115.5 points per 100 possessions) in March entering Thursday's showdown, according to NBA.com

However, you wouldn't have known that based on its performance. 

Unlike the past six games, the Clippers failed to find a rhythm from distance. They finished the night 4-of-18 on long-range looks and scored 70 of their 96 points in the paint. 

On the bright side, Tobias Harris continued his evolution into a legitimate No. 1 scorer with 29 points and eight boards. 

The Clippers (37-30), who are fighting for their playoff lives alongside the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs, will cap off a rough back-to-back Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Rockets, meanwhile, will embark on a three-game road trip that begins Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans

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