The Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Clippers 124-103 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals to avoid elimination and force a Game 6. The Clippers still lead the series 3-2.
To start Game 5, the Clippers looked sluggish and came out of the gates a bit slow. In his pre-second quarter interview with TNT, Clippers coach Doc Rivers lamented his team being slow to the ball and lacking the necessary energy required to close out the Rockets in Houston in Game 5. In the coach's mind, the Rockets were playing harder.
In the first 12 minutes, the Rockets set the tempo with James Harden drawing fouls and Dwight Howard dominating the paint. At the end of the first quarter, Howard had nine points, but most of those came after the referees hit Clippers center DeAndre Jordan with two quick fouls.
With Jordan out of the game, Howard and the Rockets would control the paint and hold a five-point advantage on the score board at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter followed the same script as the first quarter. By halftime, Howard already had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Jordan's third foul early in the third quarter meant that the Clippers' primary presence in the paint only played 9:27 in the first half. At the break, Jordan's plus-minus was +2, meaning the team was up by two points with their burly center on the court. Unfortunately for the Clippers, they were minus-17 without Jordan on the court entering the locker room.
At the half, the Rockets led 63-48, and Harden led all scorers with 17 points.
Not surprisingly, the Rockets' point guard made himself at home at the free throw line. At the half, Harden had attempted two more free throws than the entire Clippers' team. In total, the Rockets attempted 15 more free throws than the Clippers in the first 24 minutes, and Houston scored 11 extra points from the foul line.
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Fortunately for the Clippers, Spencer Hawes scored nine points to add to a pot primarily composed of 14 points from Blake Griffin and 10 points from Chris Paul. Thanks to Hawes' unlikely contribution, the Clippers remained within striking distance despite a poor display.
In the third quarter, the energy of the Rockets would overcome the visitors. Only one minute into the second half, the Rockets led by 20 points. Also, Jordan would pick up a soft fourth foul, but Rivers opted to leave his big man in the game.
On the TNT television broadcast, Rivers begged his team to cut the lead to 10 points by the start of the fourth quarter. When the Clippers drew within 13 points, the Rockets decided to intentionally foul Jordan. By the end of the third quarter, the shifting strategies had the home team ahead by 14 points.
The Clippers would need an unlikely comeback on the road in order to send the Rockets on vacation and avoid Game 6 at Staples Center on Thursday. However, the fourth quarter would continue the slew of slow starts on the night. Four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Rockets led by 19 points. At the six-minute mark, the home team still led by 18 points. Effectively, the game was over.
Game Six will be at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Clippers lead the series 3-2 and hope to close out the Rockets on Thursday night. If not, the series would play a decisive Game 7 in Houston.
Notes: Harden finished with a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Griffin finished with 30 points and 16 rebounds. Paul finished with 22 points and 10 assists. Howard finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds