The Clippers defeated the Rockets 137-118 at the Staples Center on Monday to improve to 3-1. Houston dropped to 3-1 with the loss.
• "Lob City" Clippers outdo themselves. This contest was a good old-fashioned "defense optional" shootout with one important wrinkle: L.A. and Houston are fully capable of running-and-gunning, but they're also both offensive efficiency machines with a firm understanding of good shot selection. Those attributes placed in a defense-free setting make for explosive potential, and the Clippers delivered like never before during the Chris Paul era.
The Clippers franchise -- which dates back to 1970 when they were doing business as the Buffalo Braves -- has scored 137 or more points just 19 times total and just 16 times in a regulation (non-overtime game), and they've hit for 137 or more points just eight times since moving to L.A. in 1984. Monday's outburst marked the most points L.A. has tallied in a game since 2009 (a 140-135 overtime win over New York) and the most points in a regulation game since 1998 (a 152-120 win over Toronto). This was the zenith -- in sheer volume and in style -- of the "Lob City" Clippers.
With that history in mind, what's scarier: that Doc Rivers pulled his starters with more than four minutes remaining -- thereby lessening the final damage -- or that L.A.'s "very, very good but not totally off the charts" shooting numbers suggest that they just might reach similar heights again this season?
Both should be legitimately terrifying. Monday night was a full unveiling of the Clippers' excellent offseason, a game that saw Paul orchestrate an attack that dissected Houston's interior defense, blew past Houston's non-existent transition defense, regularly found ways to exploit Houston's lacking perimeter defense, and provided highlight after highlight at every possible junction. Yes, the Clippers received a boost when Dwight Howard was sidelined with three early fouls, but his impact was marginal when he was on the court, given the sheer quantity of defensive breakdowns going on around him.
Paul was masterful -- 23 points, 17 assists, two steals, two turnovers -- but, again, not anomalous. With Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford spacing the floor, and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan stretching defenses with their pick-and-roll abilities and the threat of weakside lobs, Paul looked like a man breaking a month-long fast at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I'll take one of those, two of those, definitely one of those, give me all of those, and, sure, why not, one of those two.
The Clippers finished No. 4 in offensive efficiency in 2012-13, and their impressive opening week play (they've topped 110 points in three of their last four games) suggests they are the odds-on favorite to finish atop the charts this season. It's not too early to suggest that Kevin Durant might want to take a peek over his shoulder; Paul may already erased the Thunder forward's status as the undisputed challenger to LeBron James' MVP strangehold.
• James Harden sits. As the Clippers enjoyed a night to remember, Rockets All-Star guard James Harden had an evening he'd surely like to forget. Harden finished with 15 points (on 6-for-16 shooting) and five assists in 33 minutes, and he went 0-for-7 from deep. Of greater concern, even than the errant bombing, was his repeated disdain for his defensive responsibilities. He looked lost, uninterested, slow, bored; you name it. Houston's gameplan clearly was to meet offensive fire with offensive fire, but Harden's defensive performance lagged even by the loosest of standards.
His final missed three of the night came on the type of shot that will drive a coach insane. With less than 20 seconds remaining and the shot clock turned off, Harden launched a three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining. The shot bricked off, giving the Clippers another possession, which they quickly converted into a Matt Barnes lay-up. That basket came so fast that Houston actually had one more look at a shot -- the worst possible two-for-one scenario -- but Omri Casspi simply chucked up a three-pointer at the buzzer as Harden wandered amazingly near halfcourt.
That was the last time Harden stepped on the court, as coach Kevin McHale kept him on the sideline for the entire fourth quarter.
• Chris Paul loses Jeremy Lin. Houston took the court without Patrick Beverley, who is sidelined with a muscle injury in his midsection. Beverley has cultivated a reputation as a very good on-ball defender, and Houston was +3.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he was on the court last season, compared to Jeremy Lin's -1.6 points per 100 possessions (Note: Lin did play more than three times as many minutes as Beverley, who was picked up during the middle of last season).
Facing the Clippers without Beverley amounted to a "one hand tied behind your back" reality for the Rockets, and Paul did more than his fair share of pummeling. L.A.'s highlights for this game could fill up a 10-minute clip on YouTube, but this dancing scenario was a particular favorite.
That amounts to surgery: Paul's methodical, rhythmic set-up toys with Lin multiple times before the step-through, quick-stutter elevation provides the head-shaking pay-off.
Video via YouTube user ESPN