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Harden, Howard guide Rockets to Game 2 win over Clippers

May 7, 2015 - 5:10 AM Houston, TX ( - James Harden got back on track with 32 points and Dwight Howard tallied 24 with 16 rebounds, but it was Houston's near historic free throw shooting that stole the headlines in Game 2.

The Rockets took 64 foul shots, two shy of an NBA all-time playoff high, in their 115-109 win over the Los Angeles Clippers that evened this seven-game Western Conference semifinals series at 1-1.

After knocking off Dallas in the first round in convincing fashion and having five days off to rest before Monday's Game 1, Houston came out flat and got embarrassed at home by the short-handed Clippers. The result of this one was in doubt until the closing moments.

A 10-2 run had Los Angeles within 111-107 with a minute left, and Corey Brewer air-balled a runner at the other end to give the Clippers life. But Austin Rivers, starting his second straight game for injured star Chris Paul, lost the ball out of bounds and Howard sank two free throws at the other end.

"Dwight was just good all night," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "Solid in the paint, big in there. He played great basketball."

Paul, after playing some of the best basketball of his career in a quarterfinal-series win over the Spurs, sat again to nurse a strained left hamstring. Blake Griffin followed up his Game 1 triple-double with 34 points and 15 rebounds, but the free throw discrepancy was too much for L.A. to overcome.

"I thought this was the first game we didn't trust one another," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "The ball didn't move, and we got stuck trying to get the ball to Blake so much."

Houston finished 42-for-64 from the stripe, led by Harden's perfect 15-for-15. It outscored Los Angeles by 17 points from the line and pulled off the win despite making five less field goals.

Game 3 is Friday in Los Angeles.

Houston appeared to have put Game 1 in the rearview with a strong first quarter on Wednesday. Howard had four dunks -- all alley-oops -- in the first 6:23, and Harden made three free throws with 34 seconds to play to give the Rockets a 35-24 lead after one.

Griffin provided more than half of LA's points in the first quarter, then somehow upped the ante in the second to lead the Clippers back. He scored 12 points, DeAndre Jordan added 10 and the duo didn't miss a shot in 10 attempts as the Clippers flipped the script with a dominant period.

But it was the Clippers bench, which has taken its share of criticism all season long, that briefly changed the course of the game. Jamal Crawford made two free throws, Hedo Turkoglu hit a 3-pointer and Lester Hudson scored five points during the 18-4 quarter-opening run that put the Clippers in front.

They held that lead until the early stages of the fourth quarter, when Trevor Ariza and Harden injected some life into the Rockets. The duo scored every point during a 15-4 run, which Harden capped with one of his patented stepback 3s.

Rivers scored five points around Howard splitting a pair from the line to pull Los Angeles within 101-96 with 6:28 to play, but Matt Barnes missed a pair of 3-point tries around a Griffin turnover as Houston distanced itself with a 6-0 spurt.

Game Notes

Philadelphia shot 66 free throws in a loss to the Knicks in the 1968 postseason ... The 96 combined free throw attempts tonight were tied for sixth all-time since the NBA/ABA merger ... Houston won the rebounding margin, 54-40 ... The Clippers have never gone up 2-0 in a playoff series in team history ... Howard shot 8-for-21 from the foul line ... Ariza contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds for Houston ... After the Clippers converted 34 points off 24 turnovers in Game 1, Houston committed just 14 turnovers that led to 15 points on Wednesday ... The Clippers committed 40 fouls. Only Barnes fouled out.