Close, but no cigar
The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Clippers come out on top of Houston 122-119
This will be a tough loss for Rockets fans to swallow considering Houston led for the majority of the second half before surrendering to a 13-4 run in the final 86 seconds of the game. The Rockets fought hard and seemed to know that the Clippers might try to swarm James Harden as the Nuggets had done the night before and were much better prepared for it.
Shooters like Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Thabo Sefolosha were prepared from the start of the game to take and make wide-open shots generated by the defense played on Harden. McLemore had one of his better games of the season, shooting 4 of 9 from three-point range. He was in the correct spots, didn't hesitate to shoot, and came through big for Houston, even in a loss.
Harden was an absolute super hero for the Rockets tonight (37 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals). There's little doubt that the Rockets watched a ton of film on the Denver loss to help be better equipped to face traps in the future. He still managed to be efficient (77.3% true shooting), which is incredible considering the kind of defenders the Clippers were throwing his way (Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, etc...). It's a shame his team couldn't capitalize don't the stretch because this could have been a game to put into Harden's Hall of Fame warchest.
This game, along with Wednesday night's loss to Denver, could come back to haunt the Rockets to end the season. Houston will, without a doubt, be one of the teams Denver and L.A. will battle for position with to close the season. The whole season counts and it's never too early to discuss tiebreakers as the Rockets learned firsthand last season. Without starting small forward Danuel House and sixth man Eric Gordon, it was still an impressive performance (up until the end) nonetheless.
Star of the game: James Harden was pretty much the only reason Houston didn't get blown out tonight. Harden was again getting swarmed all night and he passed well to shooters out of the double teams, which kept Houston in the game. He ended the game with 37 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and surprisingly only 4 turnovers. For the amount of usage he had dealing with the trap all game, that's remarkably low.
Honorable mention: While his streak of 20-rebound games has come to a close, Clint Capela had possibly his best defensive game of the season. Capela was doing a great job doing the balancing act of switching out or playing help defense and getting back in time to protect the rim. He logged 17 points, 19 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Key moment: Houston's execution in the fourth quarter is what cost them this game. To start, the Rockets fouled the Clippers four times in one possession, putting them in the bonus instantly. Los Angeles capitalized in a big way, getting to the free throw line 16 times compared to Houston's 10 trips. Russell Westbrook's decision making and effort on defense will also be the lasting memory of this game. Not only did he pass up an open P.J. Tucker to take the last three of the game, but with 40 seconds left, Westbrook walked back on a Clippers fastbreak possession leading to a wide-open Lou Williams three.
Up next: The Rockets return to Houston to play the Mavericks at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.