The Miami Heat capitalized on a Los Angeles Clippers team without their starting backcourt, pulling off a 116-112 road win at the Staples Center on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
Superstar LeBron James led the way for the two-time defending NBA champions with 31 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists, but it was a total team effort from Miami. All five starters scored in double figures, and Ray Allen delivered 15 big points off the bench to boost the Heat to victory.
That helped overcome an amazing effort by hyper-athletic Clippers forward Blake Griffin, whose human-highlight-reel tendencies netted him a game-high 43 points to go with 15 rebounds and six assists.
The Heat snapped Los Angeles' seven-game home winning streak, but not without a valiant fight from Griffin and his teammates.
In the early going, the Clippers (34-18) attempted to use their offensive firepower to avoid the Heat's suffocating halfcourt defense. However, that backfired for the hosts, as James and co. put on a show of crisp ball movement and peerless execution en route to a 36-24 lead after the first 12 minutes.
That blitz, in which the Heat hit 12 of their first 14 shots from the floor, produced a franchise-record 15 first-quarter assists, per Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
The early 12-point deficit turned out to be too much for LA to overcome, as Doc Rivers' squad couldn't ever take the lead from that point on.
The Clippers have been dealing with the absence of superstar point guard Chris Paul since Jan. 4, but shooting guard J.J. Redick also missed Wednesday's game. It showed from a defensive standpoint and also in LA's ability to move the ball and generate quality shots toward the beginning.
But when the pace slowed down and the Clippers tried to battle their way back into the game with defense, it wasn't all for naught.
Griffin was a beast throughout and Jamal Crawford filled in admirably for Redick, showing off his characteristic perimeter shooting in draining five three-pointers en route to 31 points.
The Clippers managed to cut the Heat margin—which ballooned to 19 points at one stage—to seven at the halftime intermission, thanks in large part to Griffin's aerial acrobatics and 14-point second quarter.
Miami began to assert its will once more after the break, stretching the advantage to 17 before Griffin led a charge that saw LA dwindle the lead down to one possession. The NBA's leading rebounder, DeAndre Jordan, helped expose the Heat's lack of size on the inside by racking up 16 boards, and Griffin pulled down nine offensive rebounds himself.
A big-three pointer by James got Miami off the mat, and a beautiful left-handed finish at the rim after Griffin split a pair at the line made the score 106-100. The Clippers didn't get closer than four until Crawford's pullup jumper with just over a minute remaining made it 109-107 and put the momentum back on the home team's side.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough for the LA faithful. Ray Allen hit a corner dagger from downtown to push the lead back to five, which the Clippers couldn't overcome. It brought back memories of last year's NBA Finals:
Speaking of which, ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne discussed the prospect of the Heat and Clippers battling for the Larry O'Brien Trophy after this season, noting how Paul's presence would make it even more exciting:
Sounds like fun, but there's plenty of basketball to be played.
Here is a look at some grades from the top performers in this contest, followed by a brief look ahead at what's on tap for each squad.
LeBron James, F, Miami Heat: A-
Just another quiet 31 points from arguably the best player in the Association. James threw in eight rebounds and 12 assists to come up just shy of a triple-double. Ho hum.
That all-around prowess helped the Heat overcome frequent rallies and get a key win in a hostile environment. Miami's execution on offense wasn't the best down the stretch and he had seven turnovers as well, so James took matters to his own hands and scored critical buckets in the fourth quarter to put his club over the top.
Blake Griffin, F, Los Angeles Clippers: A-
Just looking at how hard Griffin hit the boards on the offensive end is an indicator of how well he played. The final numbers are awesome, except for one glaring exception: free-throw shooting.
Griffin made a mere 10-of-17 attempts from the charity stripe. Considering the Clippers shrank Miami's lead down to one possession late in the game, those misses loom large.
Ray Allen, G, Miami Heat: A
The wily veteran can still get it done, that's for sure. At age 38 and with just four points entering the final 12 minutes of the contest, it seemed Allen was destined to fade as a non-factor.
Not so fast. Allen drained the pivotal basket in the final minute of the game and ripped nylon with 11 points in the fourth. The clutch factor from one of the most cold-blooded shooters in NBA history was on full display, coming at the Clippers' expense.
Jamal Crawford, G, Los Angeles Clippers: B
There wasn't much offense to speak of beyond Griffin and Crawford. Although shot selection was an issue at times and Crawford sank 9-of-21 shots overall, he still put up a ton of points and helped keep LA within striking distance.
Since he played all but one minute due to the injuries to Paul and Redick, it's difficult to blame Crawford for losing steam at times. With the amount of ball-handling and creating the Clippers asked him to do on offense, Crawford did an admirable job overall.
The Clippers will host the upstart Toronto Raptors on Friday in an effort to bounce back from this hard-fought loss. Meanwhile, the Heat (35-13) seek to take care of business and keep the momentum going on the road on Saturday against the lowly Utah Jazz.