Clippers come up short in Miami, 102-97

Mike Ehrmann

The Clippers did a lot of things well against the defending champion Heat in Miami, but couldn't overcome the Heat's pressure defense in a poor third quarter and failed to capitalize on their opportunities down the stretch.

I'm going to start this recap by quoting myself from my preview for this game:

The Clippers will have to have a huge game from Chris Paul if they are going to have a chance tonight. The Heat, with their big three, just get by at the point with Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Paul is going to have to dominate his matchup tonight, as it's the primary advantage the Clippers have. Through five games this season, the Clippers are 3-0 when Paul shoots over 50%, 0-2 when he shoots under 50%. It won't be quite that simple tonight, but it's clear they won't win if he has an off-night.

Instead of a huge night, Paul finished with a season-low 11 points on 3-11 shooting, 12 assists and five turnovers. Nine of those assists came in the first half, helping the Clippers to a 58-54 halftime lead. The Heat turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, blitzing Paul with double teams in the pick and roll, and it worked. I would usually say that the strategy of trying to trap Paul is an ineffective one -- he generally thrives in the situation where he has attracted two defenders, leaving someone open -- but the Heat have such incredible team length and quickness that it worked.

All things considered, the fact that the Clippers were in this game down the stretch is actually quite an accomplishment. Paul had a bad game; Dwyane Wade had his best game of the season, one of his best games in a couple of seasons, scoring 29 points on 13-22 shooting. So yeah, for the Clippers to give themselves a chance against a team that is 31-2 in their last 33 home games is a pretty good showing. The Clippers were probably going to lose this game -- they did, we move on.

As great as Paul was, Shane Battier may have to get the game ball for the Heat tonight. He drew 514 charges in the third quarter, drawing several charges per possession in many cases. Time and again, just when the Clippers thought they had found an outlet valve to Miami's pressure cooker, up stepped Battier to plug the hole.

Blake Griffin had a huge game with 27 points on 11-15 shooting and 14 rebounds, but that didn't stop the TNT folks from criticizing his game all night.

Honestly, after suffering through Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller twice last week, I really thought I was going to get a break tonight with an east coast game and get to listen to the infinitely superior Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. No such luck. For some reason, TNT insists on having Harlan and Miller cover the Clippers, regardless of the time or the venue.

From many, many, indefensible statements out of Miller's mouth tonight, this is my favorite and the least defensible:

We've had three of [the Clippers] game within a week. They laid an egg on opening night versus their hallway rival in the Lakers in STAPLES Center. Then last night against Orlando ... it's a great point, they flew cross-country, I get it .. but you're playing a team that's playing for the lottery in the Magic. If you have championship aspirations which the Clippers do in hiring Doc Rivers and resigning Chris Paul you've to to bring it night in and night out. Not that you've got to win the game, but you can't be down 19 to the Orlando Magic.

When the third member of the broadcast team, Greg Anthony, correctly pointed out that the Heat had been down just as much (in fact they had been down 22) to Philadelphia, an even more lottery bound team, Miller was undaunted, based on the fact that Miami has already won a ring -- which apparently means they're allowed to suck sometimes.

The bigger problem of course is that Miller sets up his statement as if the Clippers have been bad every time he's seen them, and then proceeds to pick just the games they lost; the Clippers in fact handed Golden State their only loss of the season on TNT with Miller broadcasting, but he fails to mention that game. He skips past the Warriors win which he watched, skips over two more wins including the only game Houston has lost this season, and goes right to the Clippers next loss. So Miller's point -- I guess -- is that the Clippers are winless in the games they've lost this season. And of course he's right -- they haven't won a single game that they lost.

And don't get me started on the halftime bozos. Suffice it to say that if Kenny Smith has apparently concluded that the Clippers aren't championship material because Willie Green has to defend LeBron James -- and I'm going to have to agree with him too. You know, on second thought, those guys were spot on with their observations all night -- though maybe someone should have pointed out that it was a tough night to be missing Matt Barnes, their best option for defending Wade and second best option for defending LeBron.

Despite everything -- despite Wade's big game, Paul's poor game, Barnes' absence, Battier's omnipresence -- the Clippers still had their chances down the stretch. J.J. Redick missed a wide open corner three with the Clippers down eight and less than five minutes left. Two possessions later, he chose not to challenge LeBron on a breakaway, and instead pulled up for an 11 footer -- perhaps the smart play statistically speaking -- and missed. The Clippers could not possibly have hoped for a more gilt-edged opportunity at five points, but came away with none.

And still they had their chances. The last realistic to close the gap went by the wayside when Jamal Crawford, who was 6-11 for 14 points in the game, missed an open transition three with 75 seconds remaining. That one would have made it a one possession game, and would have allowed the Clippers to set their defense which had been pretty good down the stretch. Instead, Miami took the rebound and scored a transition layup, stretching the lead to eight and effectively ending the game.

The Clippers now head into Houston where they'll face a Rockets team that will be completely primed for the rematch. A loss there will mean a winless road trip in their first trip of the season. It's not the end of the world, but it's not what you want. But if they play as well as they did tonight -- and Paul makes a few more shots -- they should be fine.

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