On Sunday evening, the Los Angeles Clippers convincingly beat the Houston Rockets 128-95 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
In the first quarter, the Houston Rockets dulled the home crowd and created one of the most visually painful starts to an NBA game. Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale went to the "Hack-a-DJ" strategy, which features intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan at every free throw shooting opportunity.
In a first quarter that seemed to last forever, Jordan attempted 14 free throws and made seven of them. In the regular season, the Clippers' center shot 39.7 percent from the foul line, and the post-season featured only a slight improvement on that mark. Entering Game 4, Jordan averaged 42.6 percent from the foul line in the 2015 Playoffs.
Despite the depressingly slow pace of play and the eye sore that played out in the first 12 minutes, the Rockets only held a slight three-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second period, the Clippers and Rockets would continue to bore fans with foul shots. By halftime, Jordan would hold the NBA record for most foul shots in a half. The Clippers' center attempted 28 foul shots in the first 24 minutes of Game 4. With only 10 makes for the Clippers' center, the strategy appeared to be working for the visitors.
However, the scoreboard disagreed with that assessment. At the intermission, the Rockets trailed by six points. The constant fouling had disrupted the game flow for both teams, and the Rockets went long stretches without making baskets to punish Jordan's poor foul shooting.
Normally, Clippers coach Doc Rivers would have countered the intentional fouling on Jordan with intentional fouls on Dwight Howard. However, Howard found himself in early foul trouble and only played about seven and a half minutes in the first half.
In the third quarter, the Clippers would come out intent of creating separation in a hurry. Two minutes into the second half, the Clippers had extended their lead to 13 points to put Houston into a panic. Six minutes into the second half, the home team built a 23-point lead with Jordan scoring on consecutive alley-oop dunks to send the crowd into a frenzy.
With frustration mounting, Howard would foul Blake Griffin in dramatic fashion. With the crowd reacting to the heavy aerial contact, the players did well to keep their collective composure. With his hard foul on Griffin, Howard collected his fifth foul and returned to the bench with 3:07 remaining in the third quarter. The Rockets' star center had played only 16 minutes and 14 seconds in the contest to that point with just seven points and five rebounds to his name.
At that stage, the Clippers still held a 23-point lead. When the fourth quarter started, the Clippers led by 24 points and showed no signs of allowing the Rockets back into the game. Howard would re-enter the game and last exactly two minutes and eight seconds before earning his sixth foul. the 29-year-old provided enough of a reaction to the foul call that he earned his second technical foul, which meant the center had been ejected.
After the free throw for the technical foul, the Clippers led by 30 points. The game had effectively ended. The Clippers took a 3-1 lead in the series with Game 5 scheduled for Tuesday night in Houston. With a win on Tuesday, the LA Clippers can advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.