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Russell Westbrook Drops 40, Fuels Rockets' Thrilling 122-117 Win over Clippers

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2019

Houston Rockets' Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

 The Houston Rockets showed an ability to play the Los Angeles Clippers close during their first matchup.

They got the job done this time around.

Russell Westbrook scored 40 points and James Harden added 28 points, leading the Rockets to a 122-117 win over the Clippers on Thursday.

Houston trailed by 15 points at halftime but roared back with a 36-point third quarter, spurred by Westbrook's relentless attack. The athletic point guard seized the reins of the offense with 31 shots on a night during which Harden appeared willing to fade into the background before taking over down the stretch. 

The Clippers came in winners of five of their last six games, taking a firm hold on the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. This was just their second home loss of the season.

The Rockets have now won four of their last five. 

Notable Stats

Rockets

G James Harden: 28 points, 10 assists, 1 rebound, 2 steals

G Russell Westbrook: 40 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal

C Clint Capela: 16 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals

Clippers

F Kawhi Leonard: 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal

F Paul George34 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks

F Montrezl Harrell: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block

Westbrook Shows Why Rockets Made Trade

NBA @NBA

@HoustonRockets @NBAonTNT 🚨 Westbrook is up to 4⃣0⃣! 🚨 https://t.co/6xSvCwCJOt

Chris Paul is brilliant. He's a future Hall of Famer, no doubt on the first ballot. There are some who say he's the greatest pure point guard who has ever lived.

But the current iteration of Paul cannot do what Westbrook did Thursday night. While you're playing a dangerous game anytime Westbrook tops the 30-shot mark—his teams are now 14-25 in his career when he chucks up 30 or more attempts—the height of his peaks almost single-handedly led the Rockets back into the game.

An important point here: The shots didn't fall as much in the fourth. After a wild 18-foot step-back jumper and a layup attempt that ended in a Paul George block with 5:24 remaining, Westbrook did something we rarely saw the last few seasons in Oklahoma City and took a backseat.

He attempted only a single field goal in the final five minutes of regulation, allowing Harden to take over with a barrage of step-back threes and easy set-ups for his teammates. 

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Reporter asks Russ if he regrets getting a technical for waving off Pat Bev after his ejection. Westbrook had a perfect response. (via @BenGolliver) https://t.co/nJNpfqDsFk

The Rockets are clearly a happier team with Westbrook in Paul's place. When Patrick Beverley got ejected late in the fourth quarter, Harden was right there to hold Westbrook back after he drew a technical and continued to bark in Beverley's direction. That sense of leadership and trust between the two never existed between Harden and Paul.

In a macro sense, the on-court chemistry still needs work. Westbrook has the fourth-worst net rating on the Rockets, behind only Austin Rivers, Thabo Sefolosha and Eric Gordon, who have been abysmal this season. But Westbrook's chaotic highs led the Rockets back in this game, and his trust in Harden, both as a teammate and as a friend, showed up when it counted down the stretch.

        

Clippers Aren't the Juggernaut We Thought—Yet

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Lou Will couldn't believe the foul call on Russ. He got ejected real quick 😬 https://t.co/ATi9V3WRdJ

If the ugly road loss to the Chicago Bulls wasn't evidence enough, this collapse should be. The Rockets are a good team and have the capability to defeat any opponent on any given night. This shouldn't have been that night.

The Clippers put up 69 first-half points and eviscerated Houston in a 41-point second quarter. For most of the first three quarters, Harden looked off somewhere in a malaise on both ends of the floor. This was the perfect night for a statement win, especially coming on the same night the Los Angeles Lakers failed in their trip to Milwaukee.

Instead, the Clippers came out completely flat after halftime, playing careless basketball and coming unraveled at the seams when the Rockets mounted their comeback. Kawhi Leonard and Montrezl Harrell had five turnovers apiece. Paul George had three of his own and would have had more if it weren't for a couple of lucky bounces on tipped passes. 

Beverley and Lou Williams threw borderline tantrums on the floor. Even after Williams' ejection seemed to spark some life—the Clippers went from down 12 to up six in about a four-minute span—they couldn't keep up the extra gear and finish off the win.

We know the regular season isn't the goal, and the Clippers are still the No. 2 seed despite being the NBA's most load-managed team. That said, there are clearly some roster issues and maybe even some mindsets that need adjusting between now and May.