HEAT 105 - Clippers 111 Recap

January 13 – The Miami HEAT have been close to losing entire games in the first quarter before. But when the Golden State Warriors dropped 36 in the opening period almost two weeks ago, they did so on an array of jumpers that would never sustain them for an entire evening.

When the Los Angeles Clippers carved up the HEAT’s defense for 44 first-quarter points Wednesday night, things were different. They shot an incredibly high percentage that was sure to fall, yes, but so many of the points were in the paint, so many earned by simply outworking Miami, the young Clippers were clearly setting themselves up with a confidence that would last.

It did, as they ended the HEAT’s road win streak at thirteen and overall streak at nine, even though Miami got within three in the third quarter and two in the fourth before running out of gas. Strange though it may sound, the 105-111 loss may benefit the team more than anything else. A streak, after all, is a flimsy, useless achievement on its own, and with the HEAT looking progressively more relaxed for longer stretches in overtimes wins at Milwaukee and Portland, winning may be the true culprit behind this loss.

“If anything, success has an effect on your sense of urgency and your hunger,” Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the human condition. Every player, every team goes through that in this league. And that’s the challenge, to bounce back.”

To this point, the HEAT had been able to bounce back within the same game they had struggled in, and they almost did it again tonight. Despite the Clippers shooting well over 60 percent for most of the first half, hitting everything they could think of, the HEAT found themselves down just 10 at the break, with Dwyane Wade’s 20 points leading the way.

The third-quarter run, it seemed, was inevitable. The HEAT had the highest third-quarter scoring margin in the league coming into the game, at +4.4, and have translated first-half momentum into elongated success with regularity.

It was slower this time, though. This was the HEAT chipping away against a team that wasn’t panicking just because the wolf was coming to chew on the lead. Wade brought his team within three at the 5:33 mark, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas did the same a possession later, but Miami never scored more than four unanswered points at a time. And after Ilgauskas’ jumper, the Clippers scored six straight.

Mario Chalmers’ three with 5:52 to play in the fourth made it a two-point game again, but with Wade and LeBron James having already suffered minor injuries and the HEAT relying on jumpers, Chalmers had simply provided the last gasp. The Clippers responded with another 6-0 run, and that, effectively, was that.

For the first time since November, the HEAT were constantly unable to get over the hump.

“That was too much for us to overcome, the first quarter. They blitzed us,” Spoelstra said. “We started to compete at the beginning of the second quarter, but it was too big of a hole.”

Once again, the HEAT’s primary three scorers compiled 80 percent of the team’s offense, with the rest of team putting up 21 points, but that’s the easy thing to point to and say, “Look, that’s what went wrong.” But for Spoelstra, everything came back to those 44 points, and the recent bad habits they came to symbolize.

“Hopefully we can learn from this,” Spoelstra said. “We talked about getting to a consistent level defensively now for a few days, and now it came back to bite us tonight.”

The streak may be over, but remember, the streak itself came on the heels of a larger one before it. The Clippers, in playing their best game of the season, may have done the HEAT a favor. Because sometimes a team just needs that bite, that reminder, to shake a winter stretch of diminishing returns.