HOUSTON: The Los Angeles Clippers rose to the challenge of playing without Chris Paul as they wasted no time wrestling away home-court advantage from Houston with a 117-101 win on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).
Paul, who injured his hamstring in game seven against the San Antonio Spurs Saturday, watched from the sidelines as his teammates prevailed in game one of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals.
“We don’t mention injuries, we don’t talk about them, we just tell our guys to keep executing and play and our guys did that,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “They knew that without Chris it would be different in the way they play, but they accepted that.”
In the Eastern Conference contest, guard Derrick Rose scored 25 points, Pau Gasol added 21 points and 10 rebounds and the Chicago Bulls eased past LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers with a 99-92 win.
Blake Griffin recorded his third triple-double of the playoffs with a monster performance of 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists as a half dozen Clippers reached double figures in the win.
Jamal Crawford chipped in with 21 points off the bench, Matt Barnes added 20 and J.J. Redick scored all 17 of his points in a second half completely controlled by Los Angeles.
Playing without Paul
Austin Rivers, who started in place of Paul, tallied 17 points for the Clippers, who can take a 2-0 series lead when the teams square off again Wednesday.
Paul gamely fought through a hamstring strain in game seven against the Spurs on Saturday and banked in the game-winning runner to cap an epic series and send the Clippers into the second round.
The injury forced Paul out of Monday’s game, and while he was surely missed—the Clippers turned it over 23 times—they did more than enough to get the victory.
James Harden, on the same day of learning he finished second to Stephen Curry in MVP voting, finished with 20 points and 12 assists but turned it over nine times and went nearly 18 minutes without a field goal in the second half.
“We looked and felt a half step slower the whole night. We were not being proactive at all,” said Kevin McHale, head coach of the Rockets.
In Cleveland, the Bulls blew a 16-point lead in the first half, but then used a 15-0 surge in the third quarter to take a comfortable lead.
Cleveland charged back and trimmed the deficit to two in the fourth quarter with 5:21 remaining on the clock. Butler, though, split a pair of free throws and drained a three-pointer before Gasol’s jumper gave the Bulls a 94-86 lead with 3:26 to go.
The Cavs never got closer than four the rest of the game. Butler scored seven of Chicago’s last 11 points.
“You can never let your guard down,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They can score points in a hurry.”
Game two is Wednesday in Cleveland.