Five Keys for the Clippers
*Photo via USA Today
5 Keys for the Clippers to beat the Rockets
Not many people gave the Los Angeles Clippers a chance in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal matchup with the Houston Rockets after an exhausting seven game series in the first round.
Yet, two days after their Game 7 win to get past the San Antonio Spurs, and with Chris Paul nursing a strained hamstring, the Clippers went into Houston and won convincingly without their star point guard. According to Bleacher Report, the Clippers’ odds to win a title are now 6-1, while the Rockets’ odds have fallen to 16-1.
James Harden isn’t going to go down without a fight, however, so the Clippers will have to continue doing everything right. Here are the five keys to the Clippers holding off Harden’s Rockets to head to the conference finals:
Get Paul Back at Full Strength:
Los Angeles was able to steal Game 1 without Paul, thanks to another triple-double from Blake Griffin that included 13 assists. This will most likely allow them to sit Paul again in Game 2, as he is listed as doubtful for tonight’s game.
Paul was visibly limping through the tightness in his hamstring when he hit that ridiculous floater off the glass to beat the Spurs. Letting him get back to full strength before returning to the starting lineup is the smartest move if the Clippers hope to make a Finals run. They proved that they can beat the Rockets on their home floor by letting Griffin facilitate the offense, so there’s no reason not to try it again.
If they let Paul come back too early, he could get hurt worse, and they have little chance to win without him indefinitely.
Harden had an artificially impressive 20 points and 12 assists in Game 1, but he shot the ball poorly from the field and didn’t get to the free-throw line as often as he likes. He also committed 9 of Houston’s 24 turnovers on the night, which led to 34 Clippers points.
His performance didn’t have its usual impact, but Harden is likely to come back with a vengeance. If the Clippers can hold him to a few more of these sub-par performances, by his standards anyways, they can definitely win three more games.
Continue to Out-rebound the Rockets:
Dwight Howard was the league rebounding leader after round 1, averaging 13.3 per game. Deandre Jordan was second, also averaging 13.3, and Griffin was third with 13.1.
In Game 1, the Clippers won the rebound battle 42-35, but the Rockets scored more points in the paint and on fast breaks. This means that the Clippers’ defensive rebounding was crucial to limiting the second-chance opportunities of the Rockets and their poor perimeter shooting. Look for the Clippers to try to rack up the most rebounds in every game if they are going to slow down Houston.
Keep Draining Three’s and Free Throws:
Los Angeles shot 42 percent from behind the arc and 73 percent from the line in Game 1, with four different guys making at least three long-range shots. The majority of those shots came in the second half and involved Griffin sucking the defense in and kicking the ball out to his shooters. This allowed the Clippers to score 71 second-half points and pull away in the middle of the fourth quarter.
The Rockets shot just 33 percent from three-point range and 58 percent from the line. They also attempted more three’s, and less free throws. The Clippers will be in good shape if they can keep both of those advantages, especially if Paul doesn’t play in Game 2.
Distribute the Ball for Balanced Scoring:
Former Duke stars Austin Rivers and J.J. Redick both scored 17 points in Game 1, with all of Redick’s coming in the second half. Jamal Crawford stepped up off the bench as usual with 21 points of his own, and Matt Barnes added another 20. Griffin led the way with 26 in his triple-double effort.
The Clippers tallied 31 assists as a team to the Rockets’ 24. Their strategy of letting Griffin run the offense from the middle of the floor worked perfectly, and the Rockets didn’t have an answer for it.
Going forward, they will have to keep this style of play, even when Paul returns, in order to take down the fast-paced Rockets.