Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale had a blunt summation of the way his team was trounced in Game 4, saying, "[The Clippers] beat the hell out of us."
The Clippers thrashed the Rockets 128-95 to take a commanding 3-1 lead and make their advancement to the Western Conference Finals seem like an inevitability.
It didn’t begin off like a typical blowout, though. In fact, no one could predict the way Game 4 started. After two quick personal fouls and a technical foul on Dwight Howard, the Rockets decided to start intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan … three minutes and 41 seconds into the game.
"Well, we got Dwight in foul trouble, got in foul trouble right away," McHale said. "I kind of thought without our big guy, we were just trying to see if we could muck up the game a little bit."
Though McHale claims it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, Clippers coach Doc Rivers wasn’t surprised they went to the hacking strategy so early.
"You’re never surprised with it, honestly," Doc Rivers said. "You know, I thought we handled it okay. I thought we tried to play too fast for a little stretch there trying to beat it. … I thought we were thinking about that instead of thinking about defending."
The Rockets were able to keep the game close in the first half by sending Jordan to the free throw line 28 times, trailing just 60-54 at the intermission. But once they stopped hacking at the beginning of the third quarter, the Clippers went on a 15-2 run and effectively put the game out of reach.
"In the second half I thought we did a better job of defending and the game changed," Rivers said.
Once the lead was stretched to 15-plus points, the Rockets essentially stopped trying, like in Game 3, and the Clippers kept piling on the points. Before long the game was out of hand, and Ekpe Udoh and Dahntay Jones were playing garbage-time minutes.
Overall, the Clippers went 37-of-63 from the charity stripe, with Jordan finishing 14 of 34.
"Hey, give them credit," McHale said. "We’re not playing well. That’s just the bottom line right now."
DeAndre Jordan finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds, Blake Griffin added 21 points and 8 rebounds, Chris Paul claimed 15 points and 12 assists, and J.J. Redick chipped in 18 points.
Here are five takeaways from Game 4:
Houston, you have a problem
The Clippers are simply the better team. The adjustments the Rockets made today — putting James Harden on Chris Paul, intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan three minutes into the game, playing more physical, among others — were irrelevant. Houston was able to keep up in the first half, sure, but the Clips’ offensive firepower and execution eventually wore them down — similar to Game 3, the Rockets visibly started trying less once they were down by double-digits — and turned this game into a rout. The Rockets might be able to win Game 5 at home and bring the series back to L.A., but it’s not going past Game 6.
Keep calm and advance on
The Clippers’ on-court demeanor changed after the Spurs series, and their more mature disposition was on full display today. The Rockets wanted blood — they were more physical than they’ve been at any point this series, and it was clear they were trying to get in the Clippers’ heads. Except the plan backfired. Matt Barnes and Dwight Howard’s smack-talk aside, the Clippers largely ignored the Rockets’ actions and just kept playing basketball. Things may get chippier in Game 5, and it’s impossible to predict how the often volatile Clippers will react, but their Spursian attitude bodes well against a likely matchup with either of their confrontational rivals (Golden State or Memphis).
Well, that was ugly
Not only did Houston’s grand plan of intentionally fouling Jordan early and often in the first half not work, but it was also exceptionally painful to watch. It’s one thing to bust out the "Hack-a" strategy in the second quarter or second half if you’re struggling; it’s another thing to admit you’re defenseless against your opponent and starting hacking from the onset. Once they stopped fouling, the game became a blowout — this contest was an eyesore, to say the least. All this does is make it more likely the NBA will need to make some tweaks to its intentional foul rules — the Spurs and Rockets have exposed the problems with it by taking it to the extreme these playoffs — by the start of next season.
Excuse me if I shock you with this takeaway, but the Clippers don’t have a good bench. On most nights, they don’t even have an average one. But in this series, and especially in Game 4, the Clippers’ second unit was surprisingly effective. Jamal Crawford danced his way to 13 points, Austin Rivers captured the crowd’s affection again with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks (and earned another "Austin Rivers" chant), and Spencer Hawes even made a couple shots, finishing with 8 points. The Clips don’t need a miracle from their bench; however, any time the reserves can play at a passable level or better, it’s a game-changer.
Sunday is traditionally a day of rest, and that’s exactly what the Clippers’ starters got. No Clipper played more than 33 minutes, and the other four played 30 or fewer minutes. With a shallow bench and the effects of a grueling seven-game series unknown, the Clips need a breather whenever they can get one. Chris Paul, who played just 26 minutes, still isn’t 100 percent, and his health is obviously vital to the Clippers having any shot at defeating either the Warriors or the Grizzlies in the next round; he needs rest more than anyone. If the Clips can close out the series in Game 5, they’ll have nearly a week of rest before the conference finals likely start. "Obviously it would be a great thing to have," Rivers said.