The Los Angeles Clippers have finally won a game in the James Harden era. After dropping six straight following the blockbuster trade, the Clippers edged the Houston Rockets in dramatic fashion on Friday, with Harden cashing what proved to be the game-winning four-point play in the waning seconds.
Clippers 106, Rockets 100.
With the score tied at 100, the Clippers, if you care to read into the hierarchy stuff, went to Kawhi Leonard on the wing for the final possession. Leonard isolated on Jabari Smith, who closed him off and forced the pass back to Harden, who then went to work in vintage fashion.
"No magic to it — I had the ball, I seen his guy kind of lagging a little bit, and I trusted him," Leonard said of the final possession. "He's one of the top 75 players this league has ever seen. And I gave him the ball, and he made the shot."
Harden finished with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3, to go with nine rebounds and seven assists. He was a team-high plus-21 in his 34 minutes. This is the first time Harden has registered a positive point differential in a Clippers uniform.
You want box-score balance: To go along with Harden's 24, Leonard finished with 26 and Paul George 23. Russell Westbrook came off the bench for the first time with the Clippers and played just 17 minutes and scored eight points on nine shots. It was reported earlier in the day that Westbrook requested to come off the bench in an effort to try and help the Clippers establish better flow in the starting lineup with Harden now on the team. It's too soon to say whether that move factored into L.A.'s win, but as Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, it's something to build from.
"I thought we got off to a good start. Now, we just have to make sure that with the bench, we have the right rotations, the right minutes, and the right fit," Lue said. "But this is our first game trying to do it. We'll be able to build from this one. But it's better to build when you win than when you lose."
This also goes as the first In-Season Tournament win for the Clippers, who move to 1-2 in Group B of the Western Conference. With the win, they improved to 4-7 overall for the season.
The Rockets, who are the surprise team of the year thus far, fell to 6-4 overall and 1-1 in the IST (also in the West's Group B).