There are many, many factors in the boxscore of the game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat that would tell you the Clippers could not possibly have won. The Heat shot 53% from the field compared to 43% for the Clippers. The Heat made 13-31 three pointers while the Clippers made just 7-25. The Clippers committed 20 turnovers. If you commit turnovers against the Heat and don't make perimeter shots, you're probably not going to win.
And yet despite trailing by 18 points early in the second quarter and 14 entering the fourth, the Clippers fought back to within a basket with five minutes remaining and again with just over a minute left. Unfortunately they could never get that one more stop they needed to get over the hump, as Miami was able to always push the lead back to multiple possessions before the Clippers could get the ball back.
How did LA do it despite the fact that Miami shot the lights out and the Clippers couldn't hit threes or protect the ball? The simple answer is rebounding, but the real answer is I really don't know. Or rather it's hard to believe that they were able to overcome their issues. But if Miami has an achilles heal it's certainly rebounding, and while the Clippers have been getting killed on the boards lately, tonight they won the battle 52-31, and grabbed a season high 21 offensive rebounds. All those extra possessions resulted in eight more field goal attempts and 16 more free throws, which were almost enough to put the Clippers over the top. (In fact it might have been enough had they not missed 11 of those free throws.)
Still I'm amazed that the Clippers were in this game. Let's go over some of the other things that went against them. We've already discussed the poor three point shooting and the 20 turnovers.
As it happens, both of those problems were at least partially related to the fact that the starting backcourt of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick both missed the game, Redick a late scratch with a sore hip. Having neither your best three point shooter nor the best point guard in the NBA can definitely contribute to shooting and turnover woes.
With Redick and Paul out, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford started, leaving the bench dangerously depleted -- and certainly none of the reserves stepped up to fill the void. Jared Dudley scored three points on 1-5 shooting, missing all three of his three point attempts (they were all wide open, and he did not come close on any of them). And Dudley's one make was the only field goal from Clipper reserve as the bench contributed a total of just five points. As for Collison, he had his worst game as a starter this season, scoring just five points on 1-5 shooting.
When the Heat came out in the first quarter and made 15 of their first 18 shots, including three three pointers, the last coming on from Mario Chalmers on a desperation heave on a completely broken play, it just felt like it wasn't the Clippers night, that they were not going to win this one regardless.
In light of all that, it's remarkable that the Clippers made a game of it.
With Paul and Redick out and Collison ineffective, the Clippers relied almost exclusively on Griffin and Crawford for offense, and they were both terrific. Griffin finished with 43 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. It was the fourth 40 point game of Griffin's career, his third highest point total, and his best game since his rookie season. Crawford finished with 31 points on 21 shot attempts and also had six assists. Griffin and Crawford scored 74 points between them, and DeAndre Jordan pitched in with 16 points and 16 rebounds. That's 90 points from three players but the rest of the Clippers depleted roster managed just 22 combined.
When the Clippers got within two points at 99-97 with five minutes remaining, LeBron James just took over for the Heat. He earned a trip to the foul line on the next possession, then made a three pointer after that and made a layup on the possession after that. The Clippers needed one more stop the entire time, and simply couldn't get it. James finished the game with 31 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, barely missing a triple double. He's not the two time defending MVP for nothing, but on this day Griffin was just as good.
It's frustrating that the Clippers lost another close game and that they had a chance to beat a good team but couldn't quite get it done. Their ability (or inability) to make three pointers has been such a barometer for the team this season, and 7-25 is just not good enough against a good team. Just one more three pointer made and this might have been a different game.
But Redick's injury is minor and he's considered day-to-day and Chris Paul is expected back in the next game or so as well. With their starting backcourt potentially back on Friday and four more home games coming up, the Clippers could be poised to start a very nice run.
They came close to beating the NBA champs despite several things working against them in this game. They should be healthier than they've been all season within the next week. They'll still need to put everything together on the court, but if they do, they could be very impressive down the stretch.