A virtual must win game for the Houston Rockets was completed Wednesday evening, as James Harden led his side over a Chris Paul-less Clipper squad for the second straight game, to even up the series at one a piece prior to the series shifting back to Los Angeles Friday evening.
Harden was on the receiving end of some trash talk from Clippers small forward, Matt Barnes, as Barnes had some choice words for Harden which clearly crossed the line. Teamed with the embarrassment from the Rockets losing Game 1 and losing the MVP to Stephen Curry, though rightfully, Harden propelled the Rockets with 16 points in the fourth quarter, 32 total and had 15 trips to the charity stripe. "I knew my team was battling extremely hard and basically it was up to me to go out there and push us forward," Harden said. "We let Game 1 slip away and we didn't want that feeling for Game 2."
Harden received help from the big man down the middle, as Dwight Howard chipped in with 24 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. Howard could have scored more had he converted free throws, going a mediocre 8-21 from the line. Trevor Ariza chipped in with 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Corey Brewer scored 11 off the bench.
Blake Griffin had another spectacular performance, scoring 41 points with 15 rebounds and four assists, hitting 13-21 from the field. Griffin's dominance led to Doc Rivers calling plays exclusively for the All-Star power forward, which may have backfired a bit.
"We got out of the rhythm offensively, and that's where the game changed for us," Los Angeles coach Rivers said. "We got stuck trying to go to Blake too much, and we forgot about the guys on the other side of the floor. That hurt us."
Griffin also got little help outside of Jordan, who notched 16 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, swatted two shots and hit all six of his lay-ups. Austin Rivers, starting in place of Paul, Barnes, Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick combined for 15-48 from the field, an atrocious mark of 31.25%. The Clippers, however, still felt as if they let one slip away. "It definitely feels like we let one get away," Griffin said. "We came here to win two. But we've got to protect home court now. We can't hang our heads." With one day off, prior to Game Three on Friday, the Clippers are unsure on the status of Paul, who is still having issues with full movement. A split in Houston, however, aided them in stealing the home court advantage.