Russell Westbrook, Rockets use big second-half rally to knock off Clippers

Though it looked like they were down and out early on, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets picked up a five-point win against the Clippers on Thursday night. (AP/Tony Dejak)

Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers grabbed total control of things early  on Thursday night at the Staples Center, mounting an impressive 15-point lead over the Houston Rockets at the break.

Whatever was clicking in the first half, however, didn’t translate into the second.

The Rockets, behind an impressive third-quarter defensive stand, rallied back to beat the Clippers 122-117 to pick up their fourth win in their last five games.

“It’s a big win. As a team, our goal, our main goal, is to win at the highest level,” said Russell Westbrook, who dropped a season-high 40 points, via USA Today’s Mark Medina. “Obviously they’re a good team at home. We came in and took care of business.”

The Clippers, after a slow first quarter, took off just before halftime to pick up a big 17-point lead. George dropped 18 of his 34 points on the night in the first half, and Kawhi Leonard followed suit with 17 of his 25 points, too. 

That lead, though, disappeared almost instantly. 

After holding the Clippers to just 18 total points in the third quarter, the Rockets kicked off the fourth quarter on a 16-6 run — 14 points of which were scored by Westbrook. Suddenly, just minutes into the period, the Rockets had grabbed a 12-point lead. 

Though the Clippers bounced back briefly, and even retook a slight six-point lead in the final minutes, it was too late. The Rockets pushed back late and held on to grab the five point win.

Westbrook finished the night with 40 points and 10 rebounds, marking his first 40-point outing of the season. James Harden added 28 points and had 10 assists in the win while shooting 5-of-11 from the 3-point line. As a pair, the two outscored the Clippers by themselves 43-40 in the final 21 minutes of the game.

“We’re not going to win without [Westbrook] playing really well, and James and a couple others,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But I’m just happy for him. I think he’s obviously comfortable.”

The Rockets have now won two of their three matchups against the Clippers so far this season — a series that has become one of the better rivalries across the league. All of those games were decided by less than 10 points, too.

Though it will be a bit before the fourth and final regular season matchup — the two teams don’t face off again until March 5 at the Toyota Center in Houston — D’Antoni expects to see yet another tight battle.

“It’s a dogfight every [time]. It’s tough,” D’Antoni said. “They’re really good, and it’s a heck of a battle. It’s some heavyweights slugging it out. I’m sure the fourth will be the same way, and then we’ll see what happens.”

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