As much as the Los Angeles Clippers enjoyed all those uncontested jump shots — and they did seem to enjoy having J.J. Redick outplay James Harden until Harden spent the fourth quarter glued to the bench — that is not what they loved most Monday night.
The Clippers live to have Chris Paul perform magic and for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to feast on all he serves them.
The Rockets could make the game seem within reach against the Clippers’ bench with some runs back from the instant hole they dug.
But the Clippers never had a reason to be concerned. Paul was doing anything he pleased until the Rockets’ defense, wobbly from the start, finished the collapse that began with the opening tip.
With the Rockets within 11, Paul finished them off, collecting highlights until the lead was at 19 and he took a seat to watch the rest of a start-to-finish 137-118 Clippers blowout.
The Rockets had nearly eight minutes left to make a move when Chandler Parsons missed a dunk, and Paul had seen enough. He dropped in a pair of free throws, then wandered into the lane, playing with his dribble until Dwight Howard came over and he sent a look-away pass to Jordan for a slam.
Moments later, Paul turned Jeremy Lin into a statue and finished a drive around Omri Casspi.
Paul added a 3-pointer before one more pass to Jordan for one more dunk, and that was enough.
Paul finished with 23 points and 17 assists with just two turnovers.
The Rockets’ defense, second in the NBA coming into the game, never did slow the Clippers’ league-best offense.
Redick scored his 26 points easily while Harden struggled to his 15, missing all seven of his 3-pointers.
By the end of the third quarter, the Clippers were within a point of the most the Rockets had allowed this season, leading 104-89, and once the Rockets rushed to a quick 8-0 run early in the fourth, moving within nine, Paul returned to the game with 10 minutes left, and the rout was on.
The Clippers’ offense was so dominant, it rendered Howard nearly irrelevant in his return to Staples Center. He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes, with he and Omer Asik unable to control the lane or much of anything the Clippers did.
The Rockets, whose first loss dropped them to 3-1, had all kind of issues through the first half. But there was no doubt about the subject of Kevin McHale’s one-sided halftime chat.
“We had no defensive intensity,” McHale said. “They had 42 points in the first quarter, and it just kind of snowballed from then. We couldn’t get a handle on them at all. They did whatever they wanted.”
Howard picked up three fouls and played just seven minutes in the first half. Harden could not make shots.
Lin did well playmaking but ended the half with four fouls. Aaron Brooks limped off, temporarily, with a sprained ankle.
But the Rockets might have been able to overcome any of that had they not been so entirely helpless to stop the Clippers.
Redick and Jared Dudley combined to nail 10 of 14 shots in the first half, and Paul was as masterful as ever setting them up.
From the opening possession, Redick maneuvered around screens with Harden far behind and no one among the Rockets stepping out to interfere with the play.
The Rockets’ strength at protecting the paint barely came up at all, in part because Howard and Asik spent so little time on the floor together, but also because the Clippers could not resist all the wide-open jumpers they got.