The Houston Rockets defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 109-105 on Saturday night, dropping the Clips to 4-2 this season.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
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The impact of Chris Paul's absence
There's no point in making excuses -- a loss is a loss -- but the Clippers are a completely different team without Chris Paul. They hung around with the Rockets for two games last postseason, and did so again tonight, but they needed sorely missed Paul's presence. While Blake Griffin and Paul Pierce led the team with five assists each, it'd be nice to see more from Austin Rivers (1 assist) and Pablo Prigioni (2). The Clips finished with 29 assists on 42 made field goals, certainly a high figure, but they're simply not as dangerous without their floor general -- not to mention the effect he has defensively.
Griffin's growth continues
Paul's absence usually lends to a monster outing for Griffin, and he didn't disappoint tonight. Griffin finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. Griffin made 14 of 22 shots, and 7 of 8 free throws, which speaks to just how efficient he's been lately. He and Harden went back and forth looking like the best player on the floor. How many power forward could dribble full court, split two defenders and dunk all within five seconds? Griffin is in an offensive flow like we've rarely, especially with Paul playing in five the of the first six games. Again, he's probably No. 2 in the MVP race behind Stephen Curry.
Harbinger of what's to come?
One of the Clippers' recurring problems in the CP3 era has been the inability to stop dominant wing scorers. James Harden was one of the few exceptions, but as he did a couple times in the playoffs last year, he broke out tonight for 46 points on 14-of-26 shooting (13 of 14 on free throws). Lance Stephenson and J.J. Redick -- a criminally underrated defender -- had their moments limiting him, but Harden was in the zone, and that's what great players do. For the Clippers' sake, though, they better hope this isn't a trend, as they'll likely have to go through Kevin Durant and/or Kawhi Leonard at some point in the postseason.
Time to switch it up
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has a preference for using a platoon substitution pattern, keeping the first and second units almost exclusively separate. Though there are benefits to this method -- namely keeping your best players together to maximize a unit's effectiveness, and providing each lineup with valuable on-court experience to develop chemistry together -- it's not working for the Clippers right now. The Clippers' second unit gave up the lead at the end of the first and third quarters to Rockets units mixed with starters and bench players -- the more wise approach. This happened during the Warriors game, and almost every game this season. Rivers may never change his stance on this, but the data suggests otherwise.
Flashbacks of Game 6
Clippers fans might want to hear this, but this game had eerily similar vibes to Game 6 vs. the Rockets in the playoffs -- you know, the game in which the Clippers collapsed and their season fell apart. Of course, I'm not suggesting their season is over or they're going to fall apart by any means -- the stakes of this game were different, and they didn't blow a 19-point lead. But this was the Clippers' chance to show how much they've grown since their infamous collapse, and with the game in the balance, they couldn't capitalize. One could merely chalk that up to missing Paul, but the Clips had their chance.
The Clippers host the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night in the Matt Barnes Reunion game.