There’s never much to say about a complete shellacking, even less when it’s a wire to wire beat down. There wasn’t a single moment in this morning’s game when it seemed like the Clippers had a chance to beat the Heat. The possible explanations are myriad — the early start (9 am for someone on Pacific Time), a residual hangover from Friday’s heart-breaker in Atlanta, the incongruity of playing a basketball game the morning of the Super Bowl, a focused Heat team playing a “revenge” game, even the possibly apocryphal “night out in South Beach,” — whatever. The Clippers peaked at “sluggish” before descending into “brutal,” and finally “unwatchable.”
Everything the Clippers did well beating the Heat last month at home, they did poorly today. In that game the Clippers roared into the lead with 44 points in the first quarter, and committed only 10 turnovers in the entire game. Today, the Clippers eclipsed 10 turnovers midway through the second quarter, and wouldn’t score their 44th point until four minutes had elapsed in the second half. (The Clippers shot a season low 32% from the field, and made just 6 of their 24 attempts from 3.) In some ways, the game mirrored last week’s loss to the Bulls: A defense committed to stopping Blake, an inability to make jump-shots, a paucity of easy baskets, a frustrating tendency of losing out on important rebounds, and a scoring guard going off against Randy Foye..
If there was ever a glimmer of hope in this game it was in the first quarter. Not that the Clippers came out of the gate playing well – honestly, there wasn’t an encouraging Clipper stretch in this game – but for a few minutes, it seemed plausible that the Heat might play just as poorly. In his pregame interview Baron emphasized the need to “play close,” and for a while the Heat’s ineffectiveness kept the Clips in the game. The score was 1-0 after two minutes, 3-2 after four, and tied at 9 after seven. The Clippers took four minutes to score their first field goal. Baron seemed to be the only Clipper who began the game fully awake, but got no help as both Blake and DeAndre turned gimme baskets into botched lay-ups. In fact, Blake went almost the entire first half without making a field goal that wasn’t a tap-in.
But when you have two teams playing subpar ball, bet on the one with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James to pull out of the funk first. Especially after the Clippers committed an insane four personal fouls on the Heat’s first five second quarter possessions, putting the league’s most aggressive team in the penalty for the remainder of the half. Dwayne Wade connected on consecutive threes to put the Heat up nine midway through the period (Wade scored 28 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 8 assists – a LeBron-like line,) and it’s all kind of a blur of ineptitude after that. The Clippers bench was particularly bad, seemingly determined not to let the Clippers climb back into the game. Every time the Clippers had a chance to trim the lead back to 6 or 7 there would be a Bledsoe turnover, an Aminu airball, or a Cookie brick – the three combined for a Starks-like 1-17 from the field.
Similar to the Chicago game, the second half was the continual search for The Run That Never Came. Three times in the third, the Clippers had the ball down 9 with a chance to cut the lead to a manageable 6 or 7, and all three times a turnover and a transition basket the other way put them back down 11 instead. Miami never seemed to be playing all that hard, but their lead never seemed vulnerable. Every time the Clippers would hit a few shots, Mike Miller or Eddie House or Dwayne Wade would swish a few corner daggers and bring the lead back up to 13 or 14. Finally, it fell fully apart in the fourth. Less because the Clippers played any worse – not really a possibility – and more because Miami stopped missing. By the time Vinny pulled his starters with four minutes to play, the Clippers were down 22, and Blake and Baron seemed relieved to safely back on the bench.
- For the second straight game, Vinny has shortened the guard rotation, playing Baron an extra five or six minutes a game and putting Rasual back into the carbonite freeze. Interestingly, some of the Clippers best moments the past two games have been with Baron at the point and Bledsoe at the 2, a combination we hadn’t previously seen this season. This is by far the best defensive back-court the Clippers can play with Eric Gordon hurt, and it has the additional benefit of taking the ball out of Bledsoe’s hands during a stretch in which his decision making has become dicier with each game.
- Speaking of Bledsoe. It’s not that he doesn’t finish well – in fact, he has shown some amazing body control at the rim this season. It’s that so often he gets to the rim in incredibly low percentage spots. It’s like he blows past the first line of defense just because he can, seemingly without considering that he’s often driving into two and sometimes three giants waiting for him in the paint.
- Today in Chippy. Eddie House body checked Blake out of bounds on a potential alley-oop. It was a chippy play, but not a particularly violent one (evidenced by the downgrading from Flagrant 2 to Flagrant 1). Still, it was cool to see how quickly Baron ran over and got into House’s face. Watching the Clips win is clearly more enjoyable than watching them lose, but this season was always supposed to be about building for the future. The chemistry that Baron has begun to develop with his young teammates will pay dividends over the next two seasons.
- DeAndre: 3 points, 4 fouls, and 2 turn overs in 21 minutes. That’s three bad games in a row for D.J.
- Blake scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, but he was frustrated for most of the afternoon. No one the Clippers have played this season rotates better than the Heat. Blake was doubled immediately every time he caught the ball in the post, but the Heat perimeter defense did a great job shifting to deny Blake the easy pass back out to a shooter. In response, Blake took more medium range jumpers than usual, but they weren’t falling either.
- Once again, Ike Diogu was the only bench player with a plan to score. Remember, Ike was a star in college, winning both the Pac-10 Rookie and Player of the Year awards during his career at Arizona State, and he still has the mindset of a primary scorer. Looking to score while also understanding that you’re now filling a limited and secondary role is a tough balancing act for a bench player. Right now, Ike is the only Clipper pulling it off.