Sports

Rockets rout Clippers, force series back to LA

Houston, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - There might be some fight left in the Rockets after all.

James Harden recorded a triple-double, Dwight Howard showed signs of dominating down low, and Houston stayed alive in the Western Conference semifinals with a 124-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.

Desperate for a reversal of fortune following back-to-back blowout losses by 25 and 33 points in LA, the Rockets needed their star duo to come through in a must-win Game 5.

They did just that, as Harden filled the box score with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, while Howard contributed 20 points and 15 boards.

Trevor Ariza also stepped up with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, Corey Brewer added 15 points, and Terrance Jones and Jason Terry showed signs of life with 12 and 11, respectively.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale scrapped the strategy of regularly sending DeAndre Jordan to the foul line, and the end result was the Clippers shooting 32 fewer free throws than the 63 they attempted in Game 4.

Doc Rivers' bunch came out flat and got handily outrebounded, outscored in the paint and beaten in transition in a potential closeout game.

"They played harder. They were more focused," Rivers said of the Rockets. "They took us out of our stuff offensively. Give them credit."

Blake Griffin logged his usual production of 30 points and 16 rebounds, and Chris Paul donated 22 points and 10 assists while playing through a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the first two games in Houston.

LA's role players were small by comparison. Jordan and J.J. Redick combined for 22 points after totaling 44 on Sunday, and the bench was outscored 36-24.

The series shifts back to Los Angeles on Thursday where the Clippers can advance to their first conference finals in front of their home crowd.

"We have to win a game there at some point. Might as well be the next one," McHale said.

Howard eclipsed his scoring output from Game 4 in the first quarter alone and nearly recorded a double-double with nine points and eight rebounds.

His efforts, coupled with the Clippers missing nine 3-point attempts, had Houston ahead 27-22 heading into the second, and the Rockets led the rest of the way.

Matt Barnes missed a 3-pointer that would have put LA ahead late in the second quarter, and Houston ended the half on a 15-2 run, with Harden's step-back beating the buzzer and sending the hosts into the break with a 63-48 cushion.

The third quarter was Houston's death knell in LA, but an Ariza 3-pointer and Josh Smith reverse layup immediately after halftime produced a different feel. Consecutive buckets from Howard pushed the lead to 22, and the Rockets were holding a healthy 90-76 advantage with one quarter to play.

The Clippers missed their first five shots of the fourth quarter and never pulled closer than 12. There was a brief sequence when both coaches teased with "Hack-a-(insert bad free throw shooter here)," but the final five minutes were played without any unnecessary fouling.

Game Notes

Harden's triple-double was the first of his postseason career ... Griffin has posted 11 double-doubles in 12 playoff games ... Jordan shot 7-of-16 from the foul line ... Houston shot 54 percent from the floor, owned a 58-39 rebounding advantage and scored 17 fastbreak points to LA's three ... Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined for 13 points on 5-of-21 shooting off LA's bench.