Let me start off by saying that I forgot how good the Heat are, even though they're the defending championship team. I forget how good LeBron James is, despite him winning MVP 3 out of the past 4 years. In fact, LeBron finished with 30 points on 12-23 shooting, all while grabbing 5 boards and dishing out 7 assists. Being an east coast team, I only get the gift of watching them when they appear on national TV, or when they play the Clippers. Lucky for me, the starts aligned, the moon was blue for once, and I got to see the Heat play the Clippers on national television (and the Clippers won).
The game itself wasn't all flowers and sunshine. The first half was painful to watch, even though the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat kept trading leads (15 over the first half when I went and counted, although I might have counted wrong). The offense looked a little unmotivated, and the defense was stagnant, allowing the Heat to play around the perimeter, constantly swinging the basketball around the 3 point line until an open man was found to dial in the longball.
Miami showed time and time again why they're the defending champions, scoring 3 pointer after 3 pointer to stay in the game, lead by Shane Battier in the first quarter and Rashard Lewis in the second quarter, who scored 11 points in 9 minutes on 4-4 shooting throughout the first half. Dwayne Wade was a no-show throughout the entire game, finishing with 6 points and 5 turnovers, although a lot of that can be contributed to his injury, which lead him to being a game time decision.
But this isn't a Heat blog. This is a Clippers blog; enough of this Heat shenanigans. To start, Blake returned to his 2011-2012 form this game, scoring 13 points and nabbing 8 boards in the first half, and finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds overall. Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford also contributed heavily in the first half, with 7 assists for the former, and 14 points for the latter after 24 minutes. The end of the first half also saw a quick swing where the Heat jumped up by 5, only to have it be dropped to 2 points after a Caron Butler 3 pointer with 1.5 seconds left to end the first half. As mentioned earlier, the first half wasn't great by any means, but it was a far cry for what was going to happen in the second half.
The 2nd half was a completely different ballgame than the first half, led by none other then Eric Bledsoe himself. It's amazing seeing Bledsoe play, as he provides such a spark off the bench that I have never seen on this team before. A perfect example would be Bledsoe's chase-down block on Dwayne Wade at the 10 minute mark in the 2nd quarter, which brought Staples center to it's feet. His hustle, defensive pressure, and athleticism brings something off the bench that most teams can't counter, especially at the point guard position. He was a little out of control (4 turnovers), but you there's no stats for working as hard as he does, and that's where he really shows promise in the years to come.
Bledsoe didn't win that second half for the Clippers, though. There's a whole team to account for of course. To start, a little more than a third of the Clippers 33 3rd quarter points came off of free throws (13 points from free throws in the 3rd quarter!), all of which contributed to the Clippers finishing 27-32 from the line, which, for you lazy people, is 84.4%. How big of an improvement from last year is that? On top of that, the defensive pressure that we've been seeing from the Clippers in past games continued through tonight's win. The Clippers forced the Heatles to turn the ball over 19 times, up from their 13 turnovers per game that they're averaging on the season.
Of course, that defensive pressure turns into things like fast break points (10 in the first half), steals, and rebounds, all which led to the Clips having a 20 point lead with 5:43 left in the 4th quarter. However, garbage time and carelessness set in, and the Heat brought it to a 7 point lead, but the game was won at that point, so all of that doesn't really matter. Speaking which, Lamar Odom is now scoreless 3 games in a row, which has never happened in his career as a basketball player. I'm really hoping he turns it around, as I'd love to see him do well again in LA. Points aren't everything, though. Despite not contributing on the offensive end, Lamar continues to add to the Mighty Morphin' Bench with his high basketball IQ, decision making, and ball handling. His ability to pass, take the ball up court, and to create for others plays a key role for the bench squad, and tonight's win wouldn't have been the same without him.
All of that being said, tonight's win may have been a little sloppy, at least the start of the game, but a win is a win. And a win against the Heat is a win against the Heat, who may I remind you, are the defending champions. We shall see what happens when the Clippers meet the Heat in Miami on February 8th though, as both teams should be at full strength then, with Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups returning from injury, and Dwayne Wade being healthy again.
To get the Heat perspective, check out the Heat blog Hot Hot Hoops (what happened to Peninsula Is Mightier?), and the box score of the game will be on the bottom of your screen, all of which can be viewed by clicking "complete coverage."
The Clippers play this Saturday at home against an overachieving and Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls at 6pm.