Most recaps begin with what happened coming down the stretch, how the Clippers handled the pressure, if they folded or withstood the heat, but I want to talk about the first quarter, well, first. That, my friends, was the best quarter I’ve ever seen from the Clippers.
Consider the circumstances: for the first time since 2006 the Clips have an aura of excitement surrounding the team, and everyone in the NBA knows who Blake Griffin is. He’s a man, a beast, a force, a unicorn, whatever you want to call him, he’s a great player. Even more, the Clippers had won 7 of their last ten, showing the foundations of a good basketball team. Then the Heat were playing spectacular basketball, after a 9-8 start, they are rattling off wins, 21 in the last 22. Even still, they know who the Clippers are, I mean, LeBron included the Clippers in his six potential landing areas for his Free Agency. He knows what’s going on here.
Don’t think the fans forgot what he did either.
To add even more to the anticipation of this game, LeBron had tweeted (although he tried to weasel out of the responsibility of the tweet) a quote about Karma during the Lakers historic demolition of the Cavs. Safe to say, everyone around the country not from Miami, Florida was rooting for the Clippers to put LeBron in his place.
And guess what? The Clippers more than lived up to the expectations, they delivered retribution.
The excitement reverberated in the building, possibly the reason that Blake missed his first shot so horribly, he was jacked to play. The Clippers looked tight. When LeBron touched the ball, the whole stadium booed to remind him that they also don’t take kindly to the bait and switch. Arroyo got a quick deuce, Baron turned the ball back over and there were some quick nerves and anxiety as Gordon fouled Wade on the touch.
And then it turned.
Baron dished off to Blake for two. Next possession the Heat were caught sleeping on transition D and Ryan Gomes swishes an open corner two. Then the next possession the Clippers passed the ball around the perimeter until the shot clock was down and Baron swishes a three. (I’m okay with this shot, it wasn’t bad, he might have been able to get something better, but it’s at least understandable) Baron goes back to facilitator mode and he alleys to DeAndre’s oop, the fans at this point are nervously excited. Are the Clippers actually doing this, taking it to the Heat? Better enjoy it now. But it didn’t stop. Baron drove right back to the hoop for an “and 1.” Blake made one of two free throws before he slid in a hyper-quick drive to the basket and the foul. He was standing at the free throw line when Gordon zipped it to him and he lept directly at the basket, drew the foul and made the shot, even made the free throw. Clips up 16-11. The entire stadium was starting to boil, burble and question: Could this really be happening? Everyone wanted to scream, to jump and the Clippers, rarely a team to deliver in this moment, handed the ball off to DeAndre on the baseline for the monster jam. They weren’t cheers, so much as raucous, joyous bellows. 18-13. The Clippers didn’t hold back even as Dwyane Wade jammed what might normally have been a momentum changing dunk because Baron returned right back to the basket for a driving layup, and the Heat called timeout. This was supposed to cool the Clippers off, didn’t happen. Gordon got the ball and flipped in a high-arching floater just inside the right elbow, drawing the foul. The Clips went right back to Gordon before Baron Davis turned back the clock and took a DeAndre feed right to the hole for the crushing dunk. The Clips just kept going and going. Nothing could stop them. Even with VDN calling timeout with 2:33 to regroup, you’d think that there might be a settling, but the Clippers scored another 12 points, highlighted by a collected three by Bledsoe, a heady dish by Foye to Farouq for a corner three and the Blake steal that almost included Foye in the dunkfest as he layed the ball in for a 44 to 26 lead.
Let’s do a simple statistical recap of that period. The Clippers beat the best team in the league 44-26, they shot 17 for 22, 14 of those makes were assisted, including4 of 5 shooting from downtown and only 2 turnovers. Just wow.
Obviously, there is going to be a letdown after that first quarter. It’s almost impossible to maintain that type of pace (seriously, on pace for 176 points?!), but the Clippers had their standard third quarter breakdown in the last 9 minutes of the second quarter, making for a nerve-wracking halftime and setting the expectations pretty low for the second half. The Heat found Wade for 11 points, some on drifting-to-his-left floaters, some on drives to the rim, showing off his versatility, and then they returned to LeBron James to close out the half with 8 points and an assist. Combined with Baron going from the Good Baron we’ve seen lately, to Hero Baron and shooting 1-6 closing out the half, I’m sure more than a few fans had flashbacks of last year’s game against LeBron’s Cavs. Were the Clippers going to screw this up again?
The last moment that got the fans out of their seats, before the lead began to dwindle rapidly, was when Bledsoe had the chase-down block on Mario Chalmers. Just like the Nuggets game, Bledsoe found a way to be very effective in the game despite not playing big minutes. His play wasn’t enough, the Clips tripped up, fumbled the lead away.
Even through the third, the lead that was once 21 melted. I’d be shocked if there were any Clippers fans surprised by this. The third quarter has been the Clips nemesis, while the Heat have relished it. It started with seven made free throws in the third, hoary digs at the Clipper lead, knocking them off balance for what could have been a knock out punch: LeBron finished a Blake-esque alley-oop and then Baron Davis threw the ball right into Dwyane Wade’s hands, who drove down and was fouled. He made both free throws. The Clippers only led by 3.
This is where Eric Gordon’s underrated talent comes through. He quietly keeps the Clippers in the game. Even with the shot clock winding down, he slithered through the Heat defense for an opposite footed finger-roll over Zydrunas Ilgauskus. In those last 17 minutes of the game, when the Clippers needed a leader and were, at times, faltering, Gordon scored 14 points with a mixture of attacks and long range makes. His swerving, hand switching layup with just under 3 minutes left recharged the Clippers belief that they could win the game.
Gordon wasn’t the only factor down the stretch, Bledsoe stuffed LeBron and, on another possession, stole the ball and fed it to Farouq for the dunk. Baron scored 6 in the fourth, and that included Blake’s highlight dunk (plus Mario Chalmers staredown). But when the Clippers needed to go to someone for steadying points, Gordon was there. He might not be the vocal leader, but he is the proverbial quiet assassin that the team needs to win games.
- Bledsoe. Yes, he only shot 1 for 5, but he played so well tonight, blocking two huge shots (the chasedown on Mario and the end of the third swat on none other than LeBron) and had a huge steal that led to Aminu’s slam. He served out 4 assists in only 16 minutes and never looked out of control.
- Baron. I know he made some shots, but I don’t like this trend. Facilitator Baron turned into Hero Baron pretty quickly and it could have gotten ugly. He was a large part of the Clippers first quarter explosion, frequently attacking the rim and passing to teammates for open shots. But afterward the first quarter he settled for too many longer shots before he remembered in the 4th quarter that he’s best in attack mode. Some shots were mandatory, like the early three, but there were others that weren’t like the baseline fade-away that preceded the late in the shot clock three. Baron’s +/- was a team low -9 and it’s in large part due to his slacking play in the second quarter. He did finish well, his 4th quarter break away included a prescient slow down to ensure more protection from a LeBron chase down block but he can’t keep this mentality up. When the lights are on, he still wants to play the star, but he’s not anymore.
- Gomes. Played much better than his standard stats indicate. He scored 11 points on 4 for 11 shooting and pulled down 4 rebounds. Less than amazing, but he was active on the glass, tipping early rebounds to teammates. On top of which, he made some good shots. Hope it continues.
- Al-Farouq. He’s getting way better on D, he had two blocks and forced his cover into bobbling the ball, in addition to shooting 4 for 4 from the field. I don’t like the fact that he only had one rebound, as he’s the Clippers best wing rebounder, he needs to focus on this part of his game more. It’s what separates him from other small forwards on the team, because he’s been cold of late from three.
- Rotation on threes. I thought the Clippers did a lot better job challenging shots from the perimeter, a big reason the Heat shot 8 for 27 from behind the arc. I don’t know how this worked because the Heat are famous for getting their players open threes, but the Clippers managed to do it. This effort needs to continue.
- Turnovers. Only 3 in the first half, 10 overall. I was nervous about the Clippers being able to protect the ball, but when it mattered, the guarded the ball well.
- Feistiness. A way that Blake’s personality has rubbed off on the team. Baron showed this first, when he stood up to Big Z, but it was Blake’s double tech with Chalmers that really epitomized the team scrappiness. There was a hard foul on Baron, knocking his headband sideways, and Blake took exception to that (note: there was a skirmish during the play after Blake pushed Chalmers). Teams need to stick up for themselves. What made that little encounter better was Baron immediately passing to Blake on the next possession for a monster slam and as Blake ran back up the court he made sure to keep his stern eye on Mario while he chewed on his mouth-guard, preventing him from smiling.
Arnovitz spoke to Ryan Gomes about the strategic practices that the Clippers employed against the Heat, which explained the lack of offensive rebounding and Blake putbacks from the game. Check it:
Gomes also points out that the Clippers were particularly vigilant about their transition defense. They gave up only nine fast break points to Miami primarily because, as Gomes states, they reacted quickly when the Heat launched a shot. The Clippers are the league’s second-ranked offensive rebounding squad, and you’ve certainly seen at least one of Griffin’s monstrous putbacks — but you didn’t on Wednesday night. Against the Heat, the Clips posted a 21.4 offensive rebounding rate, far below their season average of 29.9. That’s because the Clippers wisely sacrificed a few potential offensive boards in favor of a much tighter transition D. Wise choice, and it paid dividends against the Heat, who could never get their transition attack rolling.
Lots more good stuff in the full article here.