CLIPPERS USE "INSIDE, OUTSIDE" GAME TO WEAR OUT HEAT

LOS ANGELES – Inside out. It sounds overly simple, but the idea of a paint presence and slashing guards leading to open looks from the outside for the Clippers was enough to concern Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra prior to the game.  

For most of its first eight games, the undersized Miami Heat had struggled allowing points in the paint and a barrage of 3-point shots. On Wednesday, the Clippers took full advantage.

Early on it was Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan finding ways to score at the rim, leading to 20 first-half points in the paint for L.A. From there it became a bit of a losing game of roulette for the Heat. They could pack the middle to prevent Jordan from going one-on-one with Chris Bosh, a lanky forward masquerading as a center, or Griffin from overpowering Shane Battier and give up open looks outside. Or they could stay home on shooters and deal with the dual threat inside.

“Blake is so deadly on the block and the same thing with [Jordan],” said Chris Paul, who had 16 points and 10 assists. “You know, [Jordan] has a presence on that block, so they have to get doubled. [Opponents] have to dig every night, so they kick it out and we make shots and then we go back inside. I think that’s what makes us a good team is having a combination of inside and outside.”

Griffin, who had arguably his most dominant 30-minute outing of the season, had it going from the block and the perimeter. He connected on four of his eight field goals from outside of 18 feet, and finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two blocks.

While much of the second half consisted of guards like Paul, Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford finding their way into the paint, Griffin’s success from the perimeter seemed to open things up as well. On one possession late in the third quarter, Griffin sliced through the lane from right to left and found Caron Butler on the wing for one of Butler’s three 3-point field goals.

“[The Heat] are a great loading up team, so we just try to swing the ball and get in gaps, just try to open up a lot of things,” Bledsoe said. “We know if you just let the ball sit, they’re going to load up and they’ve got three of the best players in the game.”

The Clippers scored just 32 points in the paint for the game, down from their 47.7 per game entering the night. However, according to Bledsoe, it was more about the threat of scoring at the rim that opened things up.

“We’re not called ‘Lob City’ for no reason,” Bledsoe said. “Everybody is trying to stop that so it opens up the guards to get in the lane.”

Bledsoe scored 12 points, including four of his five made field goals coming within 3 feet of the rim. And Jamal Crawford, who had a team-high 22 points, scored twice in the fourth quarter by breaking down his man, finding a seam and making a layup.

“Penetration is always key,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought [Miami] penetrated a lot off our closeouts in the first half and that’s why they were hitting threes. I didn’t think we did a very good job controlling that, [in the] second half [we were] much better. Then we started penetrating a little bit and the game turned.”

It was not as if the Clippers bludgeoned Miami inside, it was what their ability to get into the paint did for the offense. The paint production and penetration opened up everything else. The Clippers were 10-for-21 from 3-point range, converted 27-of-32 free throws and racked up 107 points on a team widely considered among the defensive elite.

Spoelstra knew it could be a problem. He said as much an hour and a half before tipoff when he discussed Jordan’s vast improvement over last year.

“[Jordan’s] always been a guy that if you don’t get to him early in transition or in pick-and-rolls and they throw that ball up there, you’re going to be on a poster,” Spoelstra said. “But now, they throw him the ball and he’s very productive down there. If you don’t scheme for it and plan for it in shoot-around, he can really take advantage of you.”

On Wednesday it was more about the threat of Jordan, and Griffin, that changed the game.