Early explosion leads Clippers to win
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Clippers shot 77 percent and scored 46 points in the first quarter, then lost their killer instinct the rest of the game.
But they still led all the way in earning their third straight victory, 106-96 over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
Caron Butler scored 17 of his 19 points in the opening quarter for Los Angeles. Blake Griffin had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Chauncey Billups had 19 points, Jamal Crawford scored 13 points and Chris Paul had 10 points and 11 assists as the Clippers started all their regulars again after the lineup had been hit by injuries during their recent Grammy road trip.
“We played great and got a little complacent with the lead,” Billups said. “We’ve shown to lose our discipline sometimes.”
Chandler Parsons scored 17 points, Jeremy Lin added 14 points and James Anderson had a season-high 14 for the Rockets, who have lost five straight to the Clippers and three of five overall.
“They came out on fire and we didn’t do a good job of making it difficult for them,” Lin said. “Once they got in a rhythm, it just kind of snowballed at least in the first quarter.”
Lin was set to have an X-ray on his right wrist after a fall in the second quarter.
“I think it’s fine. It just hurts,” he said.
James Harden missed the game with a sprained right ankle and sore left knee after stepping on David Lee’s left shoe in the fourth quarter against Golden State. Harden is the Rockets’ lone All-Star selection.
“He’s our best player,” Parsons said. “Anytime your best player goes down it hurts your team, but we had to play without him. We still just need to compete without him because sometimes he’s not going to be there.”
With the Clippers’ powerful starters reunited and shooting their highest percentage in a quarter this season, it wasn’t enough that the Rockets shot 50 percent in the first. They still trailed 46-28 as the Clippers scored their most points in a period since 1986.
“It was like they were playing H-O-R-S-E,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We had no presence defensively.”
Los Angeles cooled off in the second but still led 69-49 at the break.
Both teams were sloppy, with the Rockets committing 21 turnovers to the Clippers’ 19.
“It all starts from the defensive end,” Parsons said. “It was a miserable performance. We’re better than that. We’re in a good spot right now, but we’ve got to win more games and we have to compete better with the elite teams.”
Crawford’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 23 early in the second before the Rockets cut it to 11 on a basket by Lin. Then Los Angeles closed on a 10-2 run to end the half, punctuated by DeAndre Jordan’s one-handed dunk off Paul’s alley-oop pass.
Griffin’s hook put the Clippers ahead by 22 points early in the third and the Rockets trailed 88-72 heading into the fourth.
The Rockets got within 11 points on two free throws by Anderson early in the fourth before the Clippers’ starters returned and stretched their lead.
“We got to make sure we really put teams away,” Griffin said.
Butler and Billups were game-time decisions after both had sore lower backs. Paul recently returned after missing 12 games with a bruised right knee cap, while Griffin came back after missing a couple games with a strained left hamstring.
“I’m waking muscles up that haven’t worked in a long time,” said Billups, who plans to play Thursday night against the Lakers. “I feel pretty good. They’re trying to keep my minutes to 20 right now, but if we’re going for the win, I might take a couple extra minutes.”
NOTES: The Clippers went 4-4 on their recent Grammy road trip, third-best in 13 seasons of making the annual February trek. Their best record of 4-2 came last year and in 2006. … The Clippers scored 47 points in a quarter on March 7, 1986, against San Antonio. … The Rockets fell to 11-18 on the road. … The Clippers improved to 21-5 at home. They are the designated visiting team against the Lakers.