Clippers-Rockets, Round 2: Prepare For The Buckets


Apr 28, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Mavericks 103-94 to win the series 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, we have the ultimate offensive showdown between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets. And as good as DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard are at blocking shots, this series is going to be all about offense.

No matter how reliable Chris Paul is as a perimeter defender, stopping James Harden is no small feat. In fact, that’s an understatement. Of course, his effort on defense has been questioned at times, but the one area of his game that has never received much scrutiny is his relentless ability to score.

Until Russell Westbrook became a triple-double machine and an all-around terror this season, Harden would have been the NBA’s scoring champion. He averaged 27.4 points per game on 44 percent shooting, including 37.5 percent from three point range.

Whether he’s burying threes in transition, crossing over defenders to attack the rim, or using his signature step-back jumper, Harden has become one of the deadliest offensive threats in recent league history. Add in all the three pointers of the entire Rockets’ team and Dwight throwing down alley-oops in the paint, and Houston have an offense that can give anyone nightmares.

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Forget about The Beard for a moment, though. Because the Clippers have some serious offensive firepower of their own.

Chris Paul may have only finished 6th in the MVP voting this year — behind the likes of Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook — but because of his superior ability as a facilitator and elite defender, he’s still the most complete point guard and best floor general in the NBA. He shot 48.5 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent from beyond the arc this season, which are both the highest percentages he’s achieved in the last five years.

Add on the fact that Paul’s mid-range game has never been more accurate as well (he’s shot career highs from both 10-16 feet and 16 feet out this season) and you can’t argue just how much he’s capable of. And when you factor in his passing, he produced a total of 42.9 points per game this year through his own scoring and assists.

Apr 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) dunks the ball against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. The Spurs defeated the Clippers 111-107 to take a 3-2 lead. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

To finish off the Clippers’ deadly one-two punch, there’s Blake Griffin.

As he proved once more against the Spurs in round one, he’s an exceptionally strong finisher at the rim (and that’s not just because of his trilogy of posterizing dunks on Aron Baynes). He made 71.5 percent of his shots from within three feet this year, and his expanding range has made him far more than just a showtime dunker.

This season, he’s continued to improve his ability in the post and increase the efficiency of his jump shot. He made a career best 40.4 percent of his shots from at least 16 feet out and even made 40 percent of his three point attempts. Once he starts operating as a passer from the top of the key (his career high 5.3 assists per game this year were at least 1.9 more than any other power forward) he provides 34.5 points per game through his scoring and passing.

Superstars aside, though, here’s a look at the performance of both teams this season (per

  • The Clippers ranked 3rd in three pointers made per game (10.1), the Rockets ranked 1st (11.4).
  • The Clippers ranked 2nd in points per game (106.7), the Rockets ranked 6th (103.9).
  • The Clippers ranked 3rd in assists per game (24.8), the Rockets ranked 9th (22.2).
  • The Clippers ranked 10th in pace (97 possessions per game), the Rockets ranked 2nd (99.3).

After looking at some of their numbers, it’s clear that both teams will rack up the score and play at the kind of fast pace that will create some electrifying sequences this series. However, the area that separates these two teams is efficiency.

Even though the Rockets can score in waves, they fall short in comparison to the Clippers when it comes to accuracy. L.A. made 47.3 percent of their shots this year which was good enough for 2nd in the NBA, whilst Houston made only 44.4 percent to finish 20th. And despite Harden’s efforts, their three point shooting is far less accurate as well. The Rockets made only 34.8 percent of their attempts from behind the arc (14th in the league) compared to the Clippers’ 37.6 percent (3rd in the league).

May 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; NBA referee Monty McCutchen (13) signals a 3 point shot by Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) in the second half of game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. Clippers won 111-109. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The final point of comparison and statistic to differentiate these two sides is overall offensive efficiency. The Clippers had the league’s best and most efficient offense this season, leading the NBA with 109.8 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the Rockets finished the year ranked 12th with 104.2.

If Chris Paul is going to be inactive in tonight’s game due to his strained hamstring, the Clippers will need to fight back at full force in game two. And if they continue to play with the aggression that they did against the Spurs, and they maintain the elite efficiency that they have all year, the Clippers have a very good chance at outscoring the MVP runner-up and his fellow Rockets.

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Next: Are The Clippers Depleted Heading Into Round 2 Against The Rockets?