Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the Los Angeles Clippers rolled over the Houston Rockets 120-105 on Thursday night for their sixth straight victory.
The Rockets were done in by their shooting woes in a game that was billed as a matchup of two of the top teams in the Western Conference, but was a rout almost from the start. Houston had a chance to take the season series and secure the tiebreaker over the Clippers, but the loss left the teams tied 2-2.
Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers was asked about Houston’s small-ball lineup where they play without a true center.
“What they do is smart for what they do, it really is, but we couldn’t get caught in trying to play that way and I thought we didn’t,” he said. “We stayed calm, moved the ball, found the open guy and our bigs were big.”
Houston made just 7 of 42 3-pointers to drop its second straight game in embarrassing fashion after losing to the lowly New York Knicks on Monday night. The Rockets ended their streak of 18 straight games with 10 or more 3-pointers dating to Jan. 20.
Russell Westbrook led the Rockets with 29 points and 15 rebounds. James Harden was 4 of 17 and missed all eight 3-pointers he attempted to finish with 16 points. The two stars and most of the other starters on both teams didn’t play for much of the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
“We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do on both ends of the floor,” Harden said. “They made some tough shots. Defensively, we weren’t in our spots and we didn’t do what the game plan was.”
The Clippers built a 67-44 lead by halftime after a first half where the Rockets made just 2 of 22 3-point attempts. Ivica Zubac added 17 points and 12 assists for Los Angeles and Montrezl Harrell added 19 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
“We positioned ourselves in the right place so even when we got deep, we either had Trez (Harrell) or Zu (Zubac) back there when they swung it out,” Rivers said. “When you do that and make guys take contested threes it’s a little harder.”
Houston’s shooting woes didn’t end after the break and the Rockets missed 11 of 12 3-pointers in the third quarter, including a couple of air balls. But the Rockets didn’t just struggle from long-range as they also missed several layups in the quarter to leave Los Angeles up 90-65 entering the fourth.
“It’s a great learning experience for us on both ends of the (floor),” Harden said. “We’ve got 21 games left to prepare ourselves for the bigger picture. So we watch film tomorrow and get better and be ready to go for the next game.”