HOUSTON (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers knew no one player could make up for Chris Paul’s absence.
So they all chipped in to fill the void.
Blake Griffin had 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double to lead six double-digit scorers and lift the Clippers to a 117-101 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“Without Chris, everybody has to step up,” Griffin said. “But it’s not one person’s job, it’s everybody’s job. And if you look at the stat sheet tonight, it was everybody.”
Houston scored five straight points to cut the lead to one with about 7 1/2 minutes left. Matt Barnes got the Clippers going after that, making two 3-pointers in a 12-0 run that made it 101-88 3 minutes later, and the Clippers coasted to the victory.
Barnes raved about Griffin’s work as a facilitator.
“He’s incredible. He gets in the middle of the field and kind of just picks people apart like Tom Brady,” Barnes said. “That’s like a grown man triple-double right there.”
Paul, who has a strained left hamstring, missed his first game of the season. But Jamal Crawford had 21 points and Barnes added 20 to help pick up the slack.
Dwight Howard led Houston with 22 points and James Harden added 20, but had nine of the team’s 23 turnovers.
Houston was well-rested after having six days off after beating Dallas in five games. The Clippers showed no signs of fatigue despite having only about 48 hours to get ready for this series after eliminating defending champion San Antonio in Game 7 on Saturday night.
“I don’t think we took them lightly,” Harden said. “I just don’t think we had energy.”
Griffin, who also had a triple-double on Saturday, has three this postseason.
“Blake was just sensational,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I got on him because … he stopped looking to score and I told him at one point: ‘We need you to do everything and he did it.'”
Harden scored five straight points after the Clippers took their big lead, but Houston couldn’t do much after that and fans started heading for the exits with about 2 minutes left.
The Clippers scored 37 points in the third quarter to lead by six at the start of the fourth. They were up by eight early in the fourth when Houston used a 6-2 spurt, with two dunks and a block by Howard, to cut the lead to 87-83.
Paul, the team’s undisputed leader, clad in an olive green blazer, stood up often during the game, barking pointers to his teammates. He walked with a noticeable limp and during timeouts he would call different players over, sharing information with them as if he were an extra coach.
Griffin took on the leadership role on the court with Paul sitting on the sideline.
“My main message throughout the entire game was just to stay together,” Griffin said. “There was no reason for us to crumble.”
Five quick points by Harden put Houston up by six with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter. But Los Angeles scored the next six points to tie it at 57-all.
A basket by J.J. Redick gave the Clippers their first lead since early in the game, 66-65. Jason Terry put Houston back on top with a 3-pointer, but the Clippers scored the next seven points to take a 73-68 lead with 3 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Clippers were up by six with 2 minutes left in the period when Houston scored five quick points, capped by a dunk from Corey Brewer, to get within 78-77.
Los Angeles scored the last five points of the quarter, powered by a 3-pointer by Crawford, to lead 83-77 entering the fourth.
Paul, who has averaged 22.7 points and 7.9 assists in the playoffs, was injured Saturday night but returned to hit the game-winning shot. Rivers said the All-Star point guard could have played if it were an elimination game, but that it wasn’t worth the risk for Game 1.
Rivers expects him to be able to play in this series, but isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Game 2 on Wednesday night.
Clippers: DeAndre Jordan grew up in Houston and said he expected to have about 40 friends and family at the game. … Austin Rivers, the coach’s son, started in place of Paul and finished with 17 points. … Doc Rivers had some fun with fans who heckled him for using the Hack-A-Shaq when Houston intentionally fouled Jordan. A chuckling Rivers asked them why they weren’t booing Houston coach Kevin McHale for doing the same thing he did.
Rockets: Trevor Ariza scored 11 of Houston’s first 15 points. … Former Houston stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Tracy McGrady watched from courtside seats.
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