Clippers roll past Rockets

The highest-scoring team in the NBA came to the bench after the first quarter after scoring 42 points and building a 17-point lead.
And they were annoyed.
“Even thought we scored 42 in the first, we gave up 25,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “So instead of us being so happy we scored 42, we were upset about the 25. So it shows we’re focused on the right thing and going in the right direction.”
More like soaring in the right direction, and even if the defense remains a work in progress, they have the comfort in knowing that at times, the offense can be their defense.
That was on display Monday night when the Clippers never trailed in a 137-118 win over Houston in Dwight Howard’s return to Los Angeles. But from the outset, it was clear that this would be more than a battle in the paint.
It was the Clippers’ highest-scoring game since hitting 140 against the New York Knicks in 2009 and while they’re not exactly griping about the offensive output, they’re intent on shoring up the other end of the court.
In other words, a lot has changed since the early days of preseason camp when Coach Doc Rivers said the defense was ahead of the offense.
“I was delusional,” Rivers said, drawing laughs. “I think our defense is pretty good. It’s what’s getting our leads, then we break down. I thought early on we were scoring and getting stops, scoring and getting stops, and right now it seems when we get that lead, we kind of break down in our focus.”
Howard was booed continuously by Clippers fans until he picked up his third foul in the first quarter and left the game to cheers. He didn’t play the rest of the half.
It started with J.J. Redick scoring 15 of his season-high 26 points in the first quarter and then turned into another showcase for Paul, who had 23 points and 17 assists as the Clippers (3-1) handed the Rockets (3-1) their first loss of the season.
“The guy can shoot the basketball. It’s unbelievable,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said of Redick. “The best part about playing with him is he never stops moving. He’s not one of those guys who spots up in the corner and that’s all he does. He’s constantly moving, cutting, misdirection or running off three screens. That’s how he gets his shots. He really works for them.
“He’s going to be great for us.”
The Clippers had had six players reach double figures and backup center Byron Mullens added nine. Jamal Crawford had 21 points, Griffin had 18 points and seven rebounds and Jared Dudley had 15 points.
Center DeAndre Jordan finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Houston also had six players in double figures but had subpar games from James Harden (15 points on 6-for-16 shooting) and Howard, who had 13 points and nine rebounds. Howard entered the game averaging a league-best 17 rebounds.
Omri Casspi had 19 points off the bench for the Rockets and Chandler Parsons and Francisco Garcia each had 14 points.
“It’s funny – we haven’t held a team under 100 yet in four games, and I promise you our defense is better than it looks,” Paul said. “I think what has to be better is our transition defense. If you look at us now, if we get back and get set, we have our principles there, we’re relying on each other but it’s in spurts.
“It’s going to get better. It’s a process. It’s nice to learn and win.”
The Clippers had four players in double figures by halftime – and Jamal had nine at that point – and their 78-point outburst was the most in club history for a half since moving to Los Angeles. The San Diego Clippers scored 87 in a half against Utah in 1984.
But they only led by 12 against the 3-point happy Rockets, who got a boost from Casspi off the bench. He hit three 3-pointers in the first half to help keep the Rockets, who trailed by as many as 17, within striking distance.
Led by Dudley’s three 3-pointers, the Clippers hit 15 for the game and held Houston to 7-for-24 from distance.
And to think Rivers’ No. 1 concern heading into the game was the frontcourt duo of the 6-foot-11 Howard and 7-0 Omer Asik.
“They’re big. They’re huge,” Rivers said. “They don’t play that way the whole game but it presents a major problem. When they start their five and then they start their (reserve) five, that’s a problem.
“We have to rebound as a team, we have to gang rebound and we have to create a pace tonight because if we get in to their pace it will be a tough night.”
The Clippers now head out on the road for three games to play Orlando, Miami and Houston.

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