Houston’s strategy of intentionally fouling poor free-throw shooter DeAndre Jordan backfired in a big way.
Jordan scored 26 points, making 14 of 34 free throws after attempting an NBA playoff-record 28 in the first half, and the Los Angeles Clippers won 128-95 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 series lead.
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"All of us kind of got freaked out by it early, and then after that we were fine," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
They certainly were.
Jordan had 17 rebounds. Blake Griffin added 21 points, J.J. Redick had 18 points and Chris Paul finished with 15 points and 12 assists in the Clippers’ second straight blowout win in the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series.
"They beat the hell out of us," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
Los Angeles can advance to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history with a victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night in Houston.
"That’s not what we want to achieve," Jordan said. "We want to win nine more games."
An impish Jordan flashed a grin from the bench in the fourth before turning deadly serious on the video board. By then, the game was all but over and fans began doing the wave in celebration.
"I didn’t really know how many I was shooting," he said. "I was just trying to make as many as I could for our team, and on the other end just try to get us as many stops as I could in a row."
James Harden scored 21 points and Trevor Ariza added 18 for the Rockets. Dwight Howard was held to seven points and six rebounds after picking up two fouls 3:40 into the game. That’s when the Rockets decided to start forcing Jordan to the line, grinding the game to a virtual halt. Howard was ejected with 9:52 remaining in the game after getting called for a second technical.
"This is the ultimate adversity right now," Harden said.
Jordan’s first trip came 3:40 into the game. During one stretch, he made four straight visits to the line, keeping his cool but verbally expressing disgust. The fans detested the incessant fouling, too, with some of them cursing McHale.
"Personally, I don’t like it," Harden said, "but I guess different coaches have their different philosophies."
The Rockets used their reserves to do most of the early fouling, with Clint Capela and Kostas Papanikolaou picking up four each. They barely touched Jordan, often just placing a hand on him, enough to trigger the referees’ whistle.
"It just slows the game down so much," Griffin said. "Anybody that shoots 28 free throws in the first half, that’s just crazy."
Jordan’s 28 attempts — he made 10 — in the first half eclipsed the old mark of 27 by Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. The teams combined for 93 attempts — three less than in Game 2.
"Did we break a record there in a four-quarter game?" coach Doc Rivers asked. "It had to be the longest."
Like they did in Game 3 on Friday night, the Clippers rode another big third quarter to victory, opening with a 29-7 run that extended their six-point halftime lead to 89-61. This time, it was a collective effort as six players contributed while Harden and Jason Terry desperately tried to rally the Rockets with Howard and Ariza limited by fouls.
"I get emotional when I’m playing in the playoffs and I want to win so bad," Howard said. "It’s frustrating at times, but I just have to try my best to keep my cool."
Jordan and Paul jolted the crowd out of its doldrums with vintage Lob City antics. Jordan dunked on three straight possessions, the last two coming on thunderous one-handed jams fed by alley-oop passes from Paul. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer was on his feet bellowing and shaking his fists in jubilation.
"Every time that we’ve gotten the lead and went on a run, we were able to get stops and limit those guys to one shot and get out and run and do what we want to do," Jordan said.
Redick tossed in three 3-pointers, Game 3 hero Austin Rivers added another trey, and Paul beat the shot clock with a 3 of his own during the spurt.
The Rockets’ frustration boiled over, with Terrence Jones getting a technical for dragging Griffin to the court and Howard and Matt Barnes tangling arms. Howard and Ariza each picked up their fourth fouls, too.
Howard got called for his fifth after the Clippers’ run ended. He and Griffin got physical as Griffin went to the basket in a play that was reviewed but the call wasn’t changed. Griffin went down hard on his back after Howard tried to stop his drive with his hands near Griffin’s face and neck. Griffin elevated to the hoop with his left arm wrapped on Howard’s shoulder.
Rockets: Harden’s streak of consecutive free throws ended at 25 when he missed one in the third quarter. … They have given up 117, 109, 124 and 128 points in the first four games. … Harden has scored 20 or more points in 10 straight playoff games, the longest stretch since Tracy McGrady did it in nine straight from April 30, 2007, to May 2, 2008.
Clippers: Jordan just missed O’Neal’s playoff record of 39 free throw attempts in a game. … They were 12-0 in the regular season when Jordan made 14 or more free throws. … Rivers’ three other children didn’t stick around to the end, joining the exodus with under 3 minutes to go.
SLOWING IT DOWN
If there was an upside to the slowdown in the first half, Paul’s strained left hamstring benefited because he wasn’t running up and down.
"Even though the minutes were ticking there was no basketball going on, so he could stay in," Rivers said. "But moving forward, I just don’t know. Every step he takes makes the coach nervous."
Paul said, "I’m sure they’re not fouling to make sure my hamstring feels good."
McHale didn’t like Howard’s second foul that came 3:40 into the game.
"Starts off with Barnes just two-hand hammers him, and Dwight turns around and pushes him and they call a foul on Dwight," the coach said. "And then you tell him (referee) call the first one and they said they don’t see it."