For the third year in a row, the Los Angeles Clippers kicked off their preseason slate with a throwdown in the Hawaiian Islands. In front of a sold out crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center, the Clippers took on the Houston Rockets in what many considered to be a preview for potential Western Conference Finals matchup. Instead, fans got a glance at very different rosters than the expected final product, with Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook all resting due to injuries or precaution. Star guard James Harden was the lone all-star to start and play for either team.
Led by Harden and his game high 37 points, the Rockets took off for a 109-97 victory over the Clippers. Harden played a surprising 28 minutes throughout the game, as he also picked up a game high 7 assists in the contest. For the Clippers, forward Montrezl Harrell led the team with 17 points off the bench.
A turnover on the Rockets’ first possession of the game gave the Clippers the chance to take the early lead. Center Ivaca Zubac didn’t waste the opportunity, scoring on a pick and roll dunk to put Los Angeles on the board first. The advantage wouldn’t last for long, as the Rockets took off on 12-0 run to take 10-point lead. Shooting guard Rodney McGruder eventually stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer with eight minutes left in the quarter. James Harden racked up 12 points to prevent the Clippers from closing the gap, as the Rockets held LA at arm’s length for the 31-22 lead at the end of the first quarter.
With the help of four straight free throw conversions, the Clippers opened quarter number two with a 9-0 run to even up the game at 31-31. With the score again knotted at 34 points apiece, the Rockets regained control of the game with a 10-4 run, led by center Clint Capela and point guard Chris Clemons. The lopsided quarter continued, as the Rockets defense held Los Angeles to just 6 points scored in the final seven minutes of the first half. Meanwhile, Houston continued to rack up points, closing out the half with a 25-6 run to take the 57-40 lead at halftime. Harden led all scorers with 20 points in the first half.
The third quarter was more of the same. The Clippers scored a team high 25 points in the quarter, but their efforts were again outmatched by the Rockets, who also picked up a team high 32 points in the quarter. James Harden surprisingly played late into the quarter, as his successful and-one attempt netted him his 37th point. Harden would not appear in the final quarter.
Entering the final period of play, the Clippers had yet to outscore Houston in a single quarter. All that was about to change. Trailing by 24 in the final frame, Los Angeles finally unleashed their secret weapon. Montrezl Harrell exploded for 8 points in the quarter, nearly doubling his output for the game. The Clippers put up 31 points while holding the Rockets to just 20 to cut the deficit down, but the effort proved to be too little too late as Houston picked up the comfortable win to move to 2-0 this preseason.
Meanwhile, the Clippers now sit at 0-1 in the preseason. The team will now have two days to figure things out before their second preseason match up on Sunday.
The Clippers return to the Stan Sheriff Center to take on the Shanghai Sharks on Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. HST.