After getting thoroughly embarrassed by the Los Angeles Clippers in three of the first four games of their second-round series, the Houston Rockets turned the tables in Game 5 on their home floor, coming away with a 124-103 victory to keep their season alive. The Rockets are still behind the eight-ball heading back to Staples Center for Game 6 down 3-2 in the series, but not all hope is lost after the impressive Game 5 performance. Can Houston replicate that and force a Game 7?
For one, James Harden and Dwight Howard playing lights-out basketball is certainly something that can (and needs) to happen again. Harden really hasn’t been all that bad in this series, but his Game 4 performance left a lot to be desired on both ends of the floor. Despite battling a flu, the MVP runner-up notched a triple-double in Game 5, racking up 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 dimes in the victory. His performance would have been even better if he hit more than just one of his eight three-point attempts.
Howard rebounded from a truly awful Game 4, a game in which he fouled out in just 18 minutes, earned an ejection and was generally lambasted for his pitiful effort and attitude. The big man responded with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks, and he also drew two early fouls on DeAndre Jordan, which was a huge key in the game.
Jordan has anchored the Clippers’ defense all series. Prior to Game 5, Los Angeles had given up just 89.0 points per 100 possessions with Jordan on the court in the series, compared to a whopping 108.7 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, per NBA.com. That’s a stunning difference, and needless to say, getting Jordan into early foul trouble in Game 5 was huge for Houston.
Jordan was the only Clippers player who didn’t record a negative plus/minus (he posted a 0 plus-minus), and while Los Angeles’ defense wasn’t very good no matter who was on the floor, it was once again especially bad with the team’s defensive stud in the middle on the bench for long stretches. Spencer Hawes got big minutes with Jordan saddled with foul trouble, and Hawes is a defensive disaster, which made life easier for the Rockets’ offense.
Those earlier defensive ratings with and without Jordan? Those numbers now stand at 93.7 and 115.0, respectively, per NBA.com. Overall, the Clippers have outscored the Rockets by 25.1 points per 100 possessions with Jordan on the court in this series, while Los Angeles has been outscored by 16.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. So yeah, getting Jordan off the court is a good strategy for Houston.
Getting more strong performances from the role players will also be a key. Trevor Ariza poured in 22 points in Game 5 after shooting poorly all series. Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones and Jason Terry all scored in double figures. Josh Smith played a stellar all-around game with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. Youngster Clint Capela even added eight points on 4-of-4 shooting in 11 minutes. When the Rockets get those kinds of performances in addition to elite play from Harden and Howard, they’re tough to beat.
Finally, it may just take a bit more luck. The Clippers shot just 41.8 percent in Game 5, but according to SportVU, 53 of their 91 shots were uncontested. Los Angeles made a woeful 34.0 percent (J.J. Redick was 2-of-10) of those uncontested looks. Meanwhile, 58 of the Rockets’ 85 shots were contested (so the Clippers’ defense wasn’t THAT bad), and Houston made a whopping 56.9 percent of those shots.
Can all this stuff go the Rockets’ way again in Game 6. I suppose, but it’ll be tougher on the road and I expect the Clippers to come up with a much better performance. At the very least, it would be nice to see a competitive game, because this series has been a rough watch with all the blowouts and intentional fouling.