|CLIPPERS HALT HEAT - ERIC PATTEN|
LOS ANGELES—The Clippers may have been deemed underdogs entering Wednesday night’s matchup with the Miami Heat, but they sure didn’t act like it.
They overcame an 11-point deficit, held Miami to 39.5% shooting, and ultimately outmuscled the defending Eastern Conference champions on their way to a 95-89 overtime victory in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Staples Center.
It is the fourth straight win at home for the Clippers (5-3), who lost Tuesday in Portland, and the conclusion of their first back-to-back of the season.
It was certainly a cumulative effort. Point guard Chris Paul finished with 27 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and three steals. Blake Griffin had 20 points and 12 rebounds and Caron Butler scored 20 points for the third consecutive game, including 18 after halftime.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan grabbed 11 rebounds with six blocked shots, and effectively ended the game with a right-handed dunk in the open court with five seconds left in overtime.
“Six blocks doesn’t tell the real story of how he played,” Paul said. “He gained possessions for us.”
The teams traded baskets down the stretch in the fourth quarter and with the Heat leading 82-80, Butler knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing off a feed from Griffin. But Miami and L.A. combined for only seven points over the final four minutes in what resembled something of prizefight with both boxers staggering, fatigued, to the finish.
Lebron James, who ended the night with 23 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, struggled perhaps most notably in the final frame. With the Heat up one and 27.3 seconds remaining, James fouled Chauncey Billups shooting a 3-pointer after the Clippers inbound play found Billups open on the left wing. The 15-year veteran nailed all three free throws, giving the Clippers an 86-84 lead.
However, Miami (8-3) retained possession on two replay reviews in the last 20 seconds. The first coming after Dwyane Wade (17 points) dribbled the ball off of Billups’ foot and the next coming after James missed a free throw and the ball was deflected out of bounds off of Jordan’s leg. It appeared that Griffin rebounded the miss but was pulled from behind by Heat forward Shane Battier as Chris Bosh batted the ball away. Wade chased down the loose ball and saved it off Jordan.
“It’s a competitive game,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem of the physicality of the game. Halsem finished with six points and eight rebounds off the bench. “Nobody’s out to hurt each other. I think everybody’s just out there competing and nobody’s going to back down.”
James, Wade, and Chris Bosh missed four of their final eight free throws in regulation and shot just 20-of-34 as a team for the game.
“I’ll put a lot of the free throws on me,” said James, who was 9-of-17 from the line. “[I need] to concentrate a little more out there and make the shots when [I] get fouled.”
The Clippers scored the first four points in overtime before an offensive rebound by Mario Chalmers eventually led to his 3-pointer in front of Clippers bench, breaking a more than 11-minute field goal drought for Miami. But Griffin responded with a layup in traffic, giving L.A. a 92-89 lead, and Jordan rejected a 4-footer from Bosh on the other end.
After Griffin missed an open 21-footer from the top of the key, Chalmers rifled up a long 3-pointer and as the Heat tried to foul, Paul found Jordan wide open up the right side for his game-clinching dunk.
“[Paul] was unbelievable,” Griffin said. “He is so tough to guard because you never know what he is going to do. He can hit that jumper or get to the rim, shoot a floater or pass it and that is why he is the best.”
Griffin scored the first six points for the Clippers in the game’s first two minutes, using a reverse layup, 16-foot jumper, and alley oop from Paul to give L.A. an early 6-3 lead. But the teams committed five turnovers apiece in the opening frame, and the Clippers managed just 15 points in the final 10 minutes.
The Clippers shot just 37.2% in the first half and the Heat’s perimeter defense caused problems for almost anyone not named Griffin or Paul. The Clippers duo combined to score 30 of the team’s first 34 points with Mo Williams chipping in four. Butler finally broke the string with two free throws with three minutes left in the second quarter and Billups finished the half with seven.
Miami grabbed an 11-point lead after Bosh made a straightaway 3-pointer over Griffin with 4:53 to go in the second quarter, but much like Tuesday night in Portland the Clippers used an 11-2 run to claw back in the game.
Paul made a right-handed runner, Griffin dropped in a layup off a Billups missed three, and Billups eventually cut the Heat lead to two with a 3-pointer from the corner. But with an opportunity to draw even on the next two possessions, Griffin missed a pair of free throws and Butler missed a wild reverse layup attempt.
Billups three in front of the Clippers bench with six seconds left to briefly cut Miami’s lead to two, but Chalmers nailed a deep three from the top with 0.2 on the clock to give the Heat a 48-43 at the half.
In last year’s home win over Miami the Clippers scored 44 points in the first quarter. On Wednesday they managed just 43 points in the first half… Reggie Evans grabbed eight rebounds in 21 minutes and received a standing ovation when he left the game at 6:52 mark in fourth quarter. “You have no choice but to play hard when you see Reggie Evans out there, who’s only, what three or four games in [with the Clippers], diving all over the court and stuff,” Paul said… Miami had 11 points off the bench. The Clippers finished with eight (led by Mo Williams with six)… The Heat had 26 fast-break points to the Clippers eight… The game had 20 lead changes and eight ties.