Serge: Sometimes basketball is a beautiful ballet of backdoor cuts, ball movement and dagger threes. Sometimes, basketball is death of watching a 1.5 hour first half of DeAndre Jordan shooting free throws. While people like to say life isn’t fair, life is actually a perfect karmic balance of good and bad. We were rewarded with seven games of beautiful basketball choreography of Spurs vs. Clippers. We are now paying for it because the universe is making us watch Rockets vs. Clippers.
Cam: The basketball gods giveth, and the basketball gods taketh. Ethics and fairness aside, I would have fully supported booting Houston from the playoffs and allowing us to be graced with a second Clippers v. Spurs series. But, alas, that’s not how this silly league works. Instead, we’ve been subjected to a live, nationally-televised broadcast of Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and James Harden practicing (and, in the former two’s case, missing) free throws for three goddamn hours at a time. Sure, Gregg Popovich resorted to the Hack-A-DeAndre strategy in the first round – and was one of The Hack’s chief exponents in the Shaq and Howard days, but it was never, ever used like Houston have used it: starting in the first quarter, and then unrelenting for the entire game.
Serge: Quick aside: when Pop went to hack-a-DJ in the previous series, he rewarded us with Boris Diaw leaning jumpers and free flowing Spurs offence. When McHale did it weeks later all we got was a series of haphazard flails at the basket by Corey Brewer. You can’t have one without the other, the perfect karmic balance.
Cam: Exactly. Spurs v. Clippers was still fun, not this basketball-impersonating monstrosity that could be marketed as a surefire cure for insomnia.
Serge: Tonight was my vindication of the fact that karma indeed exists. For about 82 games and then some more playoff stints the Rockets have held basketball and fun hostage. They suffocated the league with analytics basketball that boiled down to threes and Harden free throws. They were impossible to watch. Tonight, it all changed.
They were still generally impossible to watch, and McHale made it even more so, sending DeAndre to shoot 27 free throws IN THE HALF. He did it when he was up 2. He did it again down 22. Neither time it worked.The point is, it didn’t work. And it exposed everything that was wrong with Houston. They didn’t play basketball as much as they did a few nifty accounting tricks on the court, making sure the numbers added up their math was right. Only the bubble just burst.
By hacking DJ, McHale let the depleted Clippers team (their bench options outside of Crawford include Austin Rivers, Big Baby Davis, Spencer Hawes and some guy named Lester Hudson) rest. He also let them set their defence. And inevitably, he put his own team into so much foul trouble that once the lob Circque Du Soleil that is the Clippers got rolling, there was no physical way of stopping them. He dug his own hole, and it didn’t work.
Tonight was vindication and proof that in the end, basketball always wins. It might not be pretty getting there, and we might have to enjoy watching Harden shoot too many free throws, but basketball always wins. The Rockets forgot that somewhere half-way through the Mavs series. Known as a defensive grind house they stopped playing defence. They thought they could just run, and against the Clippers they stopped doing even that. It’s kind of hard to run when you’re stopping the game 14 times per half. The best trick Rick Carlisle ever pulled was convincing McHale he could run the run-and-gun defence with this roster. And just like that, poof, Rick played the long con game to get the Rockets out of these playoffs.
Cam: This Clippers team is so odd. Their starting lineup is easily the most fun to watch in the NBA: Chris Paul channeling the hybrid spirits of Andres Iniesta and John Stockton to completely dictate and control the game, Blake Griffin occasionally transforming into Godzilla in basketball shoes playing the Point Forward position, and DeAndre Jordan completing the lobs that CP3 and Blake give him with devastating efficiency. Add Playoff Steve Ballmer (who might just out-party Rob Gronkowski if the Clippers manage to win the title), and it’s a fun outfit to watch. But their bench is a mess – a complete and utter mess: Austin Rivers and Glen Davis are getting meaningful minutes, and Doc Rivers’ turn as a GM just feels like something that the basketball gods should punish. But I don’t really care. Watching this Clippers team disembowel the Rockets in the third quarter just felt so right. Blake Griffin got two points – TWO POINTS – in the third quarter, and Chris Paul is still playing on 1.5 hamstrings, and they still completely and utterly crushed a demoralized, depleted Rockets team that was out of fouls-to-give and out of ideas. It was also different from the Spurs-y beatdowns that we’ve watched so many of in the last three seasons: the Spurs kill you softly, precisely – death by 1,000 cuts/corner 3-pointers. But this…this was different; this was the guy in Daredevil getting his head taken off with the car door. This was a better team taking the opportunity to bludgeon their opponents to death with some Skyrim-style Dwarven Warhammer. In doing so, they sent a statement of intent to the rest of the teams remaining in these playoffs: the Clippers machine is coming for you.
Serge: The Clippers have emerged. Blake Griffin, having seemingly been bitten by Russell Westbrook before the Clippers-Spurs series, has become a basketball version of Zeus. DeAndre Jordan needs to be checked for the presence of cosmic particles in his bloodstream, because I’m out of ways to explain his sheer athleticism. CP3, even injured, is making it work. This is beautiful basketball, and it is eviscerating a thoroughly dislikeable Rockets team. It is beautiful basketball, and it feels so goddamned good to watch. Everything about tonight seemed right, all the way to Dwight Howard getting ejected. It proved the hack-a-whoever can blow up in your face. It was the perfect way for the league’s most insufferable team and its most insufferable villain (Analytics as god) to go down in flaming fashion. Tonight was proof that you can only play the numbers for so long before the numbers start to play you.
Goodnight sweet Rockets, shhh, it will all be over soon.