Clippers' hot start key in upset
A blazing 44-point first quarter locked in L.A.'s win over the visiting Heat
It was complete with everything a self-respecting basketball fan would pay to see: electrifying dunks, tons of points in transition, clutch end-of-period shooting -- even a savvy defensive play or two.
But the most telling characteristic of the Clippers' first-quarter dominance against a Heat squad that hadn't lost on the road since Thanksgiving weekend was that it actually held up.
The lead -- up to 18 points after the first quarter -- teetered and tottered and appeared on the verge of being lost, but it never entirely dissipated. The Clippers never trailed after scoring into the double digits and held on to beat the Heat in a dramatic finish, 111-105, before a sellout crowd at Staples Center.
"They absolutely blitzed us to start the game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. "We looked like we were running in mud."
It wasn't so much that Miami was running in mud or dirt or any sort of slowing substance. It was more that the Clippers -- who shot 77 percent in the first 12 minutes -- appeared to be running in hyper-speed.
"We jumped out to a nice lead in the first quarter and were able to sustain it for the rest of the game," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. "The quick start was great, but it's still the first quarter and you know they are gonna make runs.
"You can't play the score -- you have to play the game."
The Clippers played the game well on this night. Point guard Baron Davis played inspired basketball from tip to buzzer, finishing with 20 points and nine assists. Role players Al-Farouq Aminu and Ryan Gomes produced better-than-average games and prevented James from going off on the offensive end. The scoring tandem of Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon combined for 50 points and 11 assists, setting things up for their teammates across the board.
Davis' 3-pointer tied the game up at seven early on and had an and-one play that gave the Clippers the lead for good a bit later. But the real all-out blitz that Spoelstra referred to began with 5:28 to go, when Gordon was fouled shooting an 8-foot floater. He made the free throw and then converted a huge slam dunk on the next possession after a Dwyane Wade missed shot.
Another Gordon floater, a Davis dunk and 3-pointers from Gomes, Eric Bledsoe and Aminu helped the Clippers finish the first period on a 24-9 run, giving them a 44-26 lead.
Del Negro said two things helped the Clippers get off to that early start: frequent, smart ball movement on offense and alert, realistic play on defense.
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As Davis told his team when the Clippers' lead was reduced to three points in the third quarter, that dynamic first period wasn't going to give the team any privileges down the stretch. But it did give them the confidence to keep it up late and the know-how to keep up the pace.
"Leads don't carry over to the next quarter in the NBA," said Gomes, who finished with the highest plus-minus of any player on the floor Wednesday. "We just had to maintain it, not get too comfortable and keep pushing the tempo.
"That's one thing Baron emphasized when we were coming out in the third: don't slow down, don't play the half-court offense."
They fell into some half-court sets late in the game, but for the most part what the Clippers did on offense made real sense.
Said Gordon: "We know you can't have too many letdowns against them because you know they're going to come back at some point with all their offensive weapons."
Limiting those offensive weapons is the key, said Griffin, who was forced to serve as the Clippers' lone defensive threat down low for much of the game with DeAndre Jordan in foul trouble. He offered some perspective on the blueprint to win over Miami afterward.
"The way you beat those guys is not by outscoring them," Griffin said. "The way you beat them is to hold them to as few shots as you can, play good defense and not give them anything easy, and for the most part I think we did a great job.
Asked if the Clippers did outscore them, in a way, by coming out on fire in the first half and staking themselves to an 18-point lead, Griffin deflected his answer back to the defensive end.
"Well, we did, but I think that starts on the defensive end," Griffin said. "Obviously we outscored them -- we won the game -- but that starts by us limiting their good looks and their second-chance points and all that."
Final notes: Griffin extended his franchise-record consecutive double-double streak to 24 games with his performance Wednesday. The Clippers' all-time record for most points in one quarter is 47, set on March 7, 1986, against the San Antonio Spurs. Said Heat forward Chris Bosh of Griffin: "He is athletic and he has a lot of potential to get a lot better. It is scary how good he can be."