After the Heat staved off another Clippers comeback attempt, Los Angeles fell to Miami, 121-114.
It was a defensive battle early. In other words, it was a lower scoring first quarter. Especially for the Clippers, who shot just 7-for-22 en route to a 28-19 deficit after heading into the second.
As the Clippers offense stalled, a multilateral effort from the Heat maintained a double-digit lead. With 3:11 left in the first half, Miami had three players with double-digit points. The Clippers had none.
And while both teams struggled from three, the Heat were able to capitalize more effectively from the free throw line. A Clippers team who, for much of the season, has won and lost depending on whether or not the long range shot was falling, shot just 12.5 percent from that distance in the first half. And while the Heat also shot below average (perhaps due to the Clippers propensity to close out and guard that shot, in turn), they converted 13-of-13 free throws, while the Clippers only made 13-of-18.
Still, the Clippers’ understanding of their own game and aggression on the defensive end kept Miami from running away with the game early.
Against as poised and elite of a team as the Heat, however, the Clippers couldn’t rely on an implosion of their opponents to get them back in the game. If they wanted a win, they had to take control of the game themselves.
Unfortunately, Miami was more reluctant to relinquish that control than the Clippers may have hoped. And when the Heat offense started heating up, the Clippers were left treading water. After Gabe Vincent swished in a three to extend the lead to 20, the Heat were outscoring, out-rebounding, out-assisting, and in almost every other statistical category out-playing the Clippers. And after an 8-for-8 start from the 3-point line in the third quarter for the Heat, their offense was officially firing on all cylinders.
The glimmer of hope came in the form of a run in the latter half of the third. And despite an inability to string together a big enough run to swing the game, Los Angeles continued to chip away of the deficit, slowly but surely. Once again, the Clippers relied on a stingy defensive effort, and a sharp-shooting Luke Kennard performance.
Three-point shooting may have been the reason the Clippers lost tonight, but their performance from the charity stripe was the reason they couldn’t win. That is to say, it’s hard to win a game when your team shoots just 29 percent from deep. It’s almost impossible to win if you shoot 29 percent from three and below 75 percent from the free throw line. The eight free points that Los Angeles left from the line just may have been enough to compensate for the deficit that, with less than a minute to go, was cut to just four.
The silver lining? Kennard proved once again that he can be the reliable offensive-creator that the Clippers have been lacking. His 23 point performance (21 of which were scored in the second half) almost led the Clippers to another comeback tonight. The Clippers bench performance, with 64 combined points tonight, also proved how deep this team can be.