The Rockets beat the Clippers, 115-109, in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday, but there’s still a bit of uncertainty for Houston as the series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday.
“Disappointing, to say the very least in Game 1,” Rockets radio play-by-play voice Craig Ackerman said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Under the circumstances – without Chris Paul and they had a double-digit lead in the second quarter and (the Clippers) coming off that grueling series on no rest – very disappointing way to begin this series. They had to respond in Game 2, and quite honestly, after that disastrous second quarter last night, it felt like it was going in the same direction as Game 1.”
The Rockets were outscored 41-21 in the second quarter of Game 2 and trailed 65-56 at halftime. James Harden, however, scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to lead Houston to victory.
“James Harden, who has typically struggled against the Clippers in his career, caught fire in the fourth quarter,” Ackerman said. “That’s what players of his caliber do. They carry teams. Dwight’s been fantastic, and the Rockets were able to salvage a split. They’ve still not even come close to playing their best basketball so far in this series, but obviously with Chris Paul coming back at some point, that goes against them. The Clippers are a great team. They finished with identical records, so it’s going to be tough. But it was definitely a disappointment not to win those first two games at home considering that Chris Paul was out of the lineup.”
Even without Paul on the floor, Houston has struggled mightily against Blake Griffin, who had a triple-double in Game 1 and 26 points in the first half of Game 2.
“There’s no question,” Ackerman said. “He’s been the best player in the entire league in the postseason. He’s been dominant. He has been so good in these playoffs. He’s had a double-double in each and every game, he’s had three triple-doubles, and, yes, the Rockets had to make some adjustments on him because he tore them a new one in the opener with the triple-double. He had 26 in the first half (of Game 2). It felt like he didn’t mss a single shot, so they started Dwight Howard on him in the third quarter, which I really thought disrupted the Clippers’ rhythm a little bit, and they did a lot of fronting of him as the game wore on and relatively took him out of the game. Without Chris Paul and a secondary reliable shot creator and weapon on offense, they struggled a little bit.”
Amazingly, Houston shot 64 – yes, 64 – free throws in Game 2, making 42 (65.6 percent). Harden was 15-of-15 from the stripe, while Howard was just 8-of-21 (38.1 percent).
“I’m used to the Rockets shooting a ton of free throws because it’s kind of what they do,” Ackerman said. “They have multiple sub-par free-throw shooters, so we’ve seen the hack-a-situation for guys like Dwight and Josh (Smith) and the rookie, Clint Capela, and James Harden gets to the line a ton. So we’re used to seeing a lot of free throws. Last night was a little bit crazy, but if the Clippers don’t want the Rockets to shoot 64 free throws, quit hacking everybody.”
Howard struggled at the line, but he still had 24 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
“They absolutely live with Dwight’s free throw deficiencies because a healthy Dwight Howard is a game-changer,” Ackerman said. “He’s a game-wrecker on the defensive end of the floor, and it’s just something that they deal with.”
Friday’s tip-off is slated for 10:30 p.m. ET.