The Clippers began this game with yet another new starting lineup, and boy was it bad. After a few positive appearances in a row, Jerome Robinson earned the start at point guard, and whether through his own poor play or lack of reps with the starters, the unit looked absolutely out of synch in all elements. Within minutes, the Clippers were trailing by double digits, and the Heat looked overwhelming on both ends. However, as happened so much last year, the bench stepped in to save the day, with the steady playmaking of Lou Williams and the defense of JaMychal Green helping the Clippers chip into the deficit.
While the Clippers defense had picked up at the end of the 1st, it was now their offense that kicked into gear in the 2nd quarter. Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green seemingly couldn’t miss, getting the ball in the post on mismatches and bullying smaller Heat defenders for easy layups and hook shots. Meanwhile, the Clippers paint presence opened up shooting lanes for Landry Shamet, who knocked in several threes in short succession to really get the Clippers back into things. The Heat zone, effective at first, gradually lost potency, and Kawhi Leonard picked the defensive scheme apart. With Shamet cooking and Kawhi dishing, the Clippers unleashed a 41-point quarter and cut the lead to two.
Patrick Patterson started the 3rd quarter (he had appeared for a few minutes at the end of the first half), and immediately made an impact with a three and a follow-up. In general, the Clippers just looked crisp on both sides of the ball, and soon took their first lead of the game on a Kawhi Leonard three. After struggling from the floor in the first half, the three got Kawhi on a roll, and he singlehandedly torched the Heat the rest of the quarter, pouring in 17 points while locking Jimmy Butler up on defense. The Clippers advantage grew and grew until it hit 16 points, and the Heat seemed dispirited.
The 4th quarter was not quite as auspicious. The Clippers looked suddenly slow on both ends, and the never-give-up Heat made a quick 6-0 run to force a timeout. Then, Lou Williams struck back with a personal 8-0 run to push the lead to 18, and the Clippers appeared to have the game in hand. Over the course of the rest of the quarter, however, the Heat slowly chipped away at the deficit. The Clippers were stagnant offensively, and tired defensively. All the momentum was going the Heat’s way, but one clutch three by Kawhi Leonard to put the Clippers back up by eight with under 1:30 to go was just enough to get the Clips to the finish line, after which Kawhi pushed them over by making some big free throws. In the end, it wasn’t always pretty, but the 122-117 win was one of the best of the season.
Kawhi, Out of Words: It’s repetitive to talk about how great Kawhi Leonard is game after game, so I’ll be brief. That said, Kawhi is pretty darn great. Despite an off shooting performance in the first half, he brought rebounding, playmaking and defense in spades (hence the achievement of his first ever triple-double), and then exploded in the 3rd quarter to get the Clippers over the hump. Then, when all was falling apart, he hit the biggest shot of the game, a cold-blooded three right over Dion Waiters. Kawhi looks healthy, he looks confident, and his defense is the best it’s been in years. He’s playing at a level that perhaps no Clippers player has ever reached over this seven game stretch of 30+ point games, and is just incredible to watch right now.
Landry Untracked: The key to the Clippers offense is Landry Shamet. His ability create mayhem off the ball is invaluable, and when he gets hot he can spark a rally or finish an opponent in just a minute or two. It’s no coincidence that his streak of 10+ points per game has corresponded to an efficient and far smoother Clippers offense, and he was at his best tonight. Nearly every shot Shamet took appeared to be going in, and when the Heat pressed him, he didn’t force things, but made simple reads and racked up easy assists. If he keeps playing at this level, the Clippers will be a real force when they get Paul George and Pat Beverley back.
JaMychal is Crucial: Another critical element to the Clippers recent improved play is JaMychal Green. After struggling with injuries for a stretch earlier this year, JaMyke looks healthy and is playing like the guy who was such a force for the Clippers down the stretch of last season. He hasn’t been hitting that many threes, but he still provides spacing due to his ability to hit from there, and that opens up the offense. On the other end, his defense and rebounding are fantastic, and help make up for Montezl Harrell’s shortcomings in those arenas. If anything, he needs to play more, though Doc could be trying to keep him healthy by limiting his minutes.
Brilliant Passing: The Clippers had one of the best passing and playmaking games in recent memory tonight, dishing out 33 assists to just 8 turnovers. Turnovers have been a particular bugaboo for the Clips this year, so limiting that even with the amount of ball movement generated was a huge win. The Clippers didn’t force any silly passes, kept within their comfort zones as ballhandlers and shot creators, and generally made smart decisions. It was just a beautiful game offensively, outside of the first few minutes and the last few.
The Clippers just pulled off one of their best wins of the season, but need to be careful for their next contest on Sunday. The Magic are solid, and with a showdown against the Lakers looming on Tuesday, the Clippers can’t overlook Orlando. If they play like they did tonight, however, many more wins should be on the way.