Coup's Takeaways: Clippers Find Their Shooting In Second Half Of Choppy Game As Miami Comeback Bid Falls Short

1. After having so much success with the coverage against the Kings and Wizards – they turned in the single worst offensive game against 25 or more possessions of zone on Friday – it was a good bet that Erik Spoelstra would again dial up the coverage that had appeared to give his defense a little juice.

Problem was, the HEAT used plenty of zone against the LA Clippers earlier this season and the Clippers had essentially set it on fire with their outside shooters as they worked the perimeter rotations until they could find a corner three. Spoelstra paid that no mind, dipping into the zone early – we saw it first at the eight-minute mark of the first quarter – and often to create the sort of choppy, rhythm-less game that could disrupt one of the league’s best offensive teams. Sure enough, Miami jumped out to a 16-5 lead with the Clippers out of sorts early, turnovers all over, but LA’s stable of long, switchable defenders wasn’t making things much easier on the other side. The score was merely 22-19 after the first and, after the Clippers pushed back to take a brief five-point lead once they got some threes to fall, again a mere 43-43 at the break. Other than Bam Adebayo attacking the Ivica Zubac, dropping deep off screens as usual, matchup there wasn’t much of individual note.

A little control went towards the Clippers in the third, their offense operating much closer to intentions, as they took an eight-point advantage on a pick-six turnover. Hang around time for the HEAT after that, a nice stretch from Josh Richardson (14 points on 13 shots) mitigating further damage even as Kawhi Leonard kicked things into high gear. Down two, 69-67, after how well LA was getting into their comfortable spots, was about as positive as it gets. Still, Miami’s offense was grinding more than it was flowing.

Huge swing play to open the final period, Russell Westbrook missing a breakaway dunk and Jaime Jaquez Jr. hitting a three on the resulting transition 5-on-4 as Miami took back the lead. A four-point play for James Harden put things back in LA’s court, and they were in the bonus soon after for the final nine minutes of the game. Talent started to take over, Harden hitting consecutive step-back threes, the second another possible four-point play before a missed free-throw. Down 13 with five to play, Miami needed some offense and needed it fast, and while some ugly Clippers possessions kept the window open the shotmaking just wasn’t there to take advantage. Still, a seven-point game with a minute to go thanks to a pressure turnover, LA not handling Miami’s press particularly well, and within four with 13 seconds left, but the deficit was never one possession as the HEAT fell, 103-95. Jimmy Butler finished with 21 on 18 shots, Miami’s only player over 20 points.

2. It’ll sound counter-intuitive, but Miami had a pretty good defensive game, particularly against the standards of their opponent. Sure, the Clippers shot 41 percent from three – making about half of their attempts after a 1-of-9 start – but even with that outside efficiency they finished with an Offensive Efficiency of only 109.6, far below their season average of 122.1. In other words, they needed those threes to fall at the rate they did to win, because they weren’t winning with any other part of their attack.

There were a couple examples of beautiful basketball, Terance Mann cutting backdoor for a lob or tiki-taka passing finding Mason Plumlee in the lane, but for the most part the Clippers were either moving the ball to try and find threes against the zone – the bulk of Miami’s zone possessions came in the first half – or relying on their individual talent to methodically work possessions into an advantage. In the third quarter it was Leonard (25 points on 16 shots) hitting a handful of jumpers against what was otherwise airtight Miami defense, and as the Clippers extended their lead in the fourth it was Harden (21 points on 13 shots), fouled on two stepback threes and making a third, getting to the shot he gets to against anyone. Put simply, the HEAT played well enough on defense to win across all their coverages, the Clippers just happen to be loaded with players who can create against the best of the best. Credit Richardson, Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith for working the top of the zone and closing the lanes, but there’s a reason the Clippers have been playing as well as they have.

3. On the other side, Miami just couldn’t find their shooting, hitting 8-of-29 from three for 27.6 percent. Granted that’s pretty low volume and Miami was missing two of their best if not their very best shooters in Tyler Herro (out with a migraine) and Duncan Robinson (concussion protocol), but losing a game by eight points when you’re outshot behind the arc to the degree that Miami was means there was plenty positive going their way, especially turning 17 LA turnovers into 19 points.

The Clippers have all the individual defenders to give the HEAT trouble, guys with the feet to stay in front, the length to contest or block any shot and the hands to swipe away what might look like guaranteed points, and in the half-court Miami finished scoring just 89.7 points-per-100 plays to LA’s 100.0, but the best news of the night was that Terry Rozier (17 points on 17 shots) continued to look more comfortable, making the right reads out of pick-and-roll and hitting his brand of shots against LA’s drop coverage. You never know who you will face in the postseason, but in Rozier and Herro Miami has two players who are extremely comfortable eating up the space afforded them off a pick, and just as Herro has done before tonight Rozier showcased early on that he can get Adebayo the ball where he needs it. The Clippers went to more switching later on as they won the fourth, 34-28, but a few more makes on spot-up threes is all it would have taken for a true nailbiter in the final two minutes.