For a guy who supposedly only catches lobs, DeAndre Jordan had a massive impact as the Los Angeles Clippers held on to defeat the Heat tonight in Miami. In a move that you don’t see much in today’s NBA, Hassan Whiteside took to the press to call out DeAndre Jordan prior to the game. “He catches lobs. I shoot jumpers, catch lobs, block shots. I do a lot. He just catches lobs,” Whiteside quipped after taking offense to the comparison of the two centers. DJ responded simply when asked about the comments, only offering up this quote: “Made first team All-NBA and defense doing that.” Clearly he was ready to let his play do the talking, and talk it did.
Though the stat lines of both big-men were remarkably similar - 12 points, 19 rebounds, 3 blocks for Jordan and 11 points, 17 rebounds, 1 block for Whiteside - DeAndre was able to control the paint for most of the night, forcing Hassan into difficult midrange jumpers (5/12 from the field compared to Jordan’s 5/7) and getting him into early foul trouble that plagued him throughout the game. DJ altered more shots as a rim protector (as evidenced by his demoralizing rejection below) and when the game tightened in the final seconds, he was there to clean up Chris Paul’s uncharacteristic miss at the charity stripe, snagging the board and finishing a difficult layup to clinch a win for the Clippers as Whiteside looked on from the bench.
The Clippers continued a concerning trend by letting another inferior team hang around just long enough to make things interesting at the end of the game, as a 14-point halftime lead slowly slip away against a Heat team that looked entirely overmatched in the first two quarters. The two teams jockeyed for position in a first quarter that saw both teams shoot well over 50% from the field, but featured no lead larger than four points either way. Wayne Ellington was on fire to start, with seven early points for a Miami team desperate for scoring, but the Clippers withstood the Heat’s early barrage from the field and thanks to strong play from both Blake Griffin and CP3, took a 31-27 lead into the second quarter.
The bench unit (featuring Alan Anderson in place of Austin Rivers, who joined the Core Four in the starting lineup given Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s absence) looked just like they did early in the season to start the second; defensive switches were crisp, the ball was whipping across the court on offense, and the lead quickly ballooned to ten. Upon their return, the starters maintained the pervasive energy of the second unit; forcing Miami into tough shot after tough shot and moving the ball selflessly to get open looks, they took a 60-46 lead into the locker room at half.
The wheels began to come off during the third quarter though, as the Heat, led by heady play from Goran Dragic, started the period 5/6 from the field and quickly had the Clippers on their heels. Dragic was orchestrating the offense beautifully, drawing three fouls on Paul in the first four minutes of the quarter and finding open men on the perimeter when the Clippers collapsed hard on his drives to the rack. After a quiet first half, J.J. Redick found his stroke and knocked down two three-balls, helping the Clippers stave off the Heat’s start with a 12-2 run of their own. However, sloppy play on the offensive end some stellar play from James Johnson carved that lead down to ten by the fourth quarter.
Johnson continued to torment the Clippers in the fourth quarter, making an impact by finishing at the rim, finding open shooters, and crashing the glass as Whiteside sat with four fouls. The Clippers’ offense sputtered as the ball movement that had looked so effortless in the first half grinded to a halt. The bad Jamal shots that had found their way to the bottom of the net in the first half began to find a lot of iron instead, and despite Raymond Felton’s best efforts to buoy the second unit, Justise Winslow began to shake the rust off from his recent return from injury, hurting the Clippers inside and forcing Doc Rivers’ hand to bring back the starters.
Despite the return of The Big Three, the offensive stagnancy persisted. Their usual fluidity was nowhere to be found and players, CP especially, looked gun-shy on shots that they would normally take without hesitation. Isolation-heavy possessions led to end-of-shot-clock heaves as the Heat continued to chip away at the dwindling lead. The Clippers seemed to awaken from their slumber after a James Johnson floater with 3:47 left cut the lead to five, locking Miami down on three consecutive possessions (one near shot-clock violation, one turnover, one shot-clock violation). In fact, the game seemed all but over, when the Heat opted to forgo fouling though they trailed 95-88, letting the clock run down to down under 30 seconds before a Chris Paul turnover quickly led to a Winslow three-pointer. Now only down four, with 22 seconds remaining, the fouling began.
After an inexplicable foul from Austin that led to an old-fashioned three-point-play from Josh Richardson and allowed the Heat to pull within three, Rivers turned the ball over, forcing an inbounds pass to Redick that glanced off his hand and out of bounds. As they always do, the Clippers fouled immediately rather than let Miami take a three and sent Dragic to the line where he hit two free throws. A successful, yet risky, inbound pass to CP put him at the line, where he made the first before clanking the second. Luckily, DeAndre was there with the huge rebound and putback to finally put game out of reach.
There’s nothing wrong with a fourth consecutive victory, but for a game that looked to be all but over at halftime, this one was unnecessarily tight. The NBA season is long and it’s nearly impossible to stay focused for all 82 games, but the Clippers need to do a better job of closing out struggling teams when they first have the opportunity to do so. The Western Conference is ultra-competitive and every single victory is going to be valuable down the stretch. They may have weathered second-half runs in their past three, but it’s a habit that will likely catch up to them down the line if they aren’t able to find that winning formula that we all grew accustomed to when they were blowing out lesser opponents to start this year.
With that said, the team looked sharp for large chunks of the game, particularly the first half, and a win is a win. Most importantly, it looks like Hassan Whiteside might have to add on to that list of his: DJ isn’t so bad at swatting shots, inhaling rebounds, and getting the last laugh.