For the second straight night, the Miami Heat lost in overtime in California, as the Los Angeles Clippers handed the Heat their third loss of the season a night after Golden State had beaten Miami in Oakland. Unlike the Warriors game, in which the Heat lost a 17-point lead, this was a tight contest throughout. Four missed free throws by the Heat in the final two minutes took the game into overtime, where the Clippers prevailed 95-89.
ESPN had to love the whole thing. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were the story of last offseason, while Chris Paul was the story heading into this season. A showdown between these two highly visible teams, featuring some of the most breathtakingly spectacular athletes in the NBA, was bound to be good TV. That the game was tightly contested and went into overtime is just icing on the cake.
Two minutes into the game, Paul and Blake Griffin gave the fans what they came to see, as the two connected on a Lob City special for a Griffin dunk. It was part of an 11-point first quarter for Griffin, but in the end this game wasn't about highlight reel plays -- it was about tough defense.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back after missing three games with a sore foot, Wade struggled. He finished the game with 17 points, but shot just 6 for 17 from the field, and he was 1 for 11 outside of the paint. James likewise had a difficult night, scoring 23 on 7 for 19 shooting. He also was the main culprit in Miami's terrible free throw shooting, missing 8 of his 17 free throw attempts, including 2 of 4 in the final 16 seconds of regulation when he had a chance to win the game.
Credit has to be given to the Clippers' defense for limiting Miami's stars. The L.A. defense has not been great this season, rated No. 25 in the league coming into this game, allowing over 107 points per 100 possessions. But on Wednesday the defense did a good job of contesting shots, rotating, and protecting the paint. Miami has thrived on easy baskets this season, and in this game, particularly in the second half, there were few to be had. For the final seven minutes of regulation and the five-minute overtime, the Clippers limited Miami to just one field goal.
DeAndre Jordan in particular came up huge for the Clippers on the defensive end. When the Clippers matched Golden State's 4-year, $43 million offer sheet to Jordan in December, it was with the full knowledge that the young center still had a lot to improve on to truly earn that money. But they knew he had the potential to be a difference maker on the defensive end, and so far this season he is justifying their faith in him. On Wednesday he blocked six shots and contested countless others. Three of his blocks came at critical moments of the fourth quarter and overtime, and crucially, the Clippers retained possession on each of them. He even scored four points in the overtime period to seal the victory.
On the offensive end, it was Chris Paul carrying the load. After two straight subpar games, Paul scored a season-high 27 points while dishing out 11 assists to break out of his mini-slump. Caron Butler had his third straight game of 20 points for the Clippers, while also playing tough defense on James all night. Griffin finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
It remains to be seen whether the Clippers are worthy of the Lob City hype that has been lavished upon them since the Paul trade, but with their first marquee win of the season, they're moving in the right direction. L.A. improves to 5-3 on the season while Miami drops to 7-3.