At the beginning of the game, I was feeling a little sorry for the fans in America Airlines Arena (both of them). I mean, you buy tickets to an NBA game. Maybe you bought them back in November. But come game time, instead of seeing the Heat's Dynamic Duo of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal taking on Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, you are presented with extended minutes of Alexander Johnson taking on Nick Fazekas. And as early as this morning, Kaman and Wade were supposed to play. (By the way, is it time we spoke of the 'Gatorade Curse?' Since the commercial featuring DWade, Livingston and Paul Davis all three of them have had major surgery, and none of them are playing now. Coincidence? Well, sure.)
Anyway, I was feeling sorry for the fans. And then something happened. An NBA game broke out. You forget that the guys who ride the bench in the NBA can still play, and although there weren't a lot of superstars on the court, many of the guys who did play looked good.
When the Clippers fielded a starting lineup of Knight, Ross, Maggette, Thornton and Powell, I was thinking to myself that Maggette and Thornton would have to do all the scoring. Well, that's exactly what they did in the first quarter. Corey made 4 of his 5 shots, including two threes, and scored 15 in the quarter. And Thornton went 4 for 5 for 8 points. The two of them combined for 23 of the Clippers' 29 first period points.
In the second quarter it was Thornton and Cat Mobley who couldn't miss. The Clippers again put up 29, and Thornton and Mobley combined for 20 of those. But a 7-2 Heat run in the final two minutes of the half (with 6 of the points coming on a pair of long threes) cut the Clippers 16 point lead to 11 and foreshadowed trouble to come.
On the Clippers' first second half possession, Mike Smith made one of those maddening commentator statements that simply aren't true: he said the only way the Clippers could lose the game was if they were careless with the basketball and turned it over too much. The Heat proceeded, immediately, to prove that there was at least one other way - they could get white hot from beyond the arc. Less than 5 minutes into the second half, Miami took their first lead of the game. 5 minutes after that, they led by 9. To that point, they had made 5 of 7 three pointers in the quarter, and stretching back to the end of the first half they had made 7 of 9 and outscored the Clippers 37-11 in 12 minutes of play. After winning the first quarter by 6 points and the second by 5, the Clippers ended up losing the third by 18, 33-15, and entered the fourth trailing by 7.
The lead stretched to 9 on Miami's first shot of the final period, but a 9-0 Clipper run tied the game with 9:22 left to play. Neither team led by more than 3 the rest of the way. When the Clippers took their 3 point lead on Mobley's free throws with 90 seconds left, it seemed like the Clippers had probably done enough to win. But fittingly, the Heat came back from beyond the arc once again. First on a long pull up by Jason Williams to tie the game, and then after two Maggette free throws, on a tough Davis three to re-take the lead.
On the Clippers' final possession, Cat Mobley drew a foul, and made both free throws to give the Clippers enough for the win. (The foul call looked dubious to say the least. From the angle we were shown, there's was no contact at all. The ref was right in front of the play, and generally you're not going to get a touch foul with 3 seconds to go, so I can only assume that he saw something that camera didn't. But it sure didn't look like a foul.) Davis' last second jumper barely fell off the rim, and the Clippers avoided the embarrassment of losing to the worst team in the NBA for the second time this season.
Now, Chris Kaman and others may look at this and say it's still an embarrassment, beating the team with the worst record in the NBA, playing without Dwyane Wade, by a single point. But let's face it - the Clippers, playing without Kaman, were just as shorthanded as the Heat. And by the way, the single All Star playing in this game was in a Miami uniform. So it ended up being a pretty exciting game. Especially considering that the bigs were so ineffective that it became an almost entirely perimeter affair. (Remember that Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Paul Davis and Aaron Williams - the erstwhile starting bigs and several key backups for these two teams - were not out there.) Although they probably don't want it in the big picture, the Clippers deserved the victory after winning 3 of the 4 quarters in convincing fashion. But that one Miami quarter almost made the difference.
Other notes -
- After shooting 4 for 5 in the first quarter, Corey Maggette only took two more shots, none in the fourth. I'm not sure how to explain that. Particularly in the third quarter, the Clippers needed something, but either they weren't calling his number, or the Heat's defense successfully took him away.
- Nick Fazekas got his first non-garbage time minutes of the season, and actually looked pretty good. He grabbed 6 rebounds in 9 minutes, and converted both of his offensive boards into buckets. His jump shot looked shaky, but that's one thing he's supposed to be able to do. We tend to judge a player pretty quickly - one guy looks like a ball player and another doesn't. In many ways Fazekas looks not at all like a baller - and I'm not just talking about the fact that he's white. Just watching the guy run up and down the court he does not look athletic - he looks awkward. But he's got at least one physical gift that helps on a basketball court - he's got him some long arms. And he uses those arms to get to rebounds.
- As I suspected, Ricky Davis had a huge game. If he got to play the Clippers every game, he would be an All Star. He just kills LA.
- Shawn Marion had 17 rebounds, and the Heat as a team had 30. That's just crazy. As I've mentioned, there were very few bigs available tonight. And neither Mark Blount nor Tim Thomas will ever be confused with Wes Unseld as rebounders. But 17 out of 30 is remarkable.
- Maggette (5-7), Thornton (9-14) and Mobley (11-15) combined to shoot 25 for 36 (69.4%). As a team the Clippers shot 54.5%. Other than Powell and Ross, who each looked much worse than 0 for 4, everyone shot the ball pretty well.
- There was precious little information about Kaman's condition. I didn't watch the pre-game, but during the telecast it was 'He's not playing to rest his back.' For him to miss 4 games, come back and play 5 (albeit on restricted minutes) and then miss another game with back trouble - well that's a HUGE red flag. I know my back doesn't feel so great after a cross country flight, so I wouldn't be surprised if that had something to do with it. But this has been going on for over two weeks now, and there's only six weeks left to the season.