Clips beat Heat in NBA’s first playoff game this season
by Andrew Kennedy
I planned to watch every NBA game last night. I did, but only one ended up mattering. Heat at Clippers with a 10:30 tip, thank God by the second half no other game was on (because trust me, I would have been flicking back and forth between a Timberwolves game if one was on).
Last season was tough for Miami in a lot of ways. One way was that night in, night out, they got everyone’s best shot. The rest of the league had a grudge against Miami and wanted to prove they weren’t the league’s best yet without earning it.
That’s impossible to happen again this year with the condensed schedule (part of why I picked Miami to win 54 games). But last night, Miami was in their first playoff game of the regular season on the road and lost in overtime, 95-89 to the Lob City Clippers.
Both teams came into the game having played the night before and lost. Before the game began, here were the keys I was looking for:
1. The Heat tempo: Miami came into the game averaging around 111 possessions per game while Los Angeles just 103. The Heat were running 18 percent of the time and doing it efficiently with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile, the Clips were among the worst in the league (28th) in defending transition play.
2. Rebounding: Despite starting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers aren’t a very efficient defensive rebounding team. They average only 26.5 defensive rebounds per 210 possessions. Miami is a pretty good offensive rebounding team especially when their bench and Udonis Haslem enter the game. This would be only Reggie Evans’ third game with the Clips this season and controlling the boards and not letting Miami get out and run was a way he could really affect the game in a good way for the Clippers.
3. Knocking down jumpers: The Clippers were going to need to take advantage of their opportunities and make open shots to win this game. They came into the game third in the league in spot-up shooting and relying on it quite a bit for around 24 percent of their offense. The Heat aren’t too good at closing out on shooters while they are 2nd best in the league at defending against the pick-and-roll.
Dolphinism.com predicted Clippers win 103-102.
I really should have just written something small last night previewing the game, but trust me, all of this was in my pregame notes.
The game started out and had a playoff atmosphere-like feel from the tip. This would be the only time these two teams would meet this regular season and the first big time matchup for the now Chris Paul-led Clippers.
The Clippers were forced to rely on Griffin and Paul for the bulk of their scoring early (they scored 30 of the Clippers first 34 points in the game). The Heat got great run again from Mario Chalmers who finished the game with 18 points and made four threes.
The Heat led 48-43 at the half and the Clippers began to come back led by a great performance by Paul in the third quarter. Paul was brilliant all game with 27 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals along with a plus-13, plus-minus. He turned it up and continued scoring through the second half while Griffin was struggling (Blake scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half).
The Heat could have easily pulled away in this one but their struggles from the line prevented them in doing so. Miami made 20-of-34 free throws last night and LeBron was the worst of the bunch going 9-for-17.
The Clippers also did a good job limiting Miami in transition after a poor start. The Heat managed just a 1.04 PPP in transition (9-for-17 field goals).
LeBron was off most of the night actually getting in foul trouble early (you never see that) and not his usual self finishing at the rim. He came into the game leading the league at 14.7 points per game in the paint. Last night, he was 3-of-6 on shots at the rim and 3-of-6 on shots coming from between 3-9 feet (both really low marks for him). LeBron was also just 1-for-5 on shots taken in a post-up situation.
Of course the presence of Griffin and especially Jordan in the paint had a lot to do with this. Jordan was fantastic in the game making six blocks.
Usually Jordan’s willingness to try and go after every shot and block it makes the Clippers give up the bulk of their opponent’s offensive rebounds. Miami had 13 offensive rebounds last night but the Clips held their own with 35 defensive boards. Lob City also did work on their own offensive glass with 10 offensive rebounds, all collected by Griffin, Jordan or Evans (8 rebounds in 21 minutes for Evans).
Since the game had a playoff feel and the defensive intensity was turned up, good shots were tougher to come by. Paul became that much more valuable in the game for the Clippers while Miami was forced to take more tough shots. The Heat went just 6-for-21 on long twos in the game while Lob City made 13-of-26 from the same range. LeBron and Wade were the worst both taking and making just 1-of-6 long twos.
LeBron blew the game in regulation for Miami as the Heat trailed by two with 22 seconds left, he got to the line four times and made just two. He then matched up with Paul in an isolation situation in the final seconds of regulation, and Paul put the moves on to get past LeBron and into the paint but missed the running floater from the free throw line as time expired.
The game actually came down to a lot of isolation since both teams were playing strong defense. The Clips iso’d 32.7 percent of the time on offense (with Paul a lot) and Miami 23 percent. The Clippers edged Miami in these possessions going 8-of-26 on iso plays while Miami shot just 3-for-16.
Paul attempted a shot in an isolation situation 13 times in the game! He made six of those shots and is now the most efficient isolation scorer in the NBA with a 1.31 PPP.
The Clippers also were successful in their spot-up shooting making 10-of-23 such shots including 6-of-12 from three.
In overtime, Miami had nothing left and the game belonged to the Clippers. The Heat went just 1-for-10 shooting in overtime while LeBron was 0-for-3 with a turnover in the extra period.
I feel the same way I did about the Heat this year as I did last year. I don’t see how they’ve gotten much better. That doesn’t mean they’re not still good enough to win a title (they nearly swept Dallas in the Finals last season), just that they are still underwhelming and not as dominant as you’d expect.
The matchup of these two teams reminded me a lot of the Bulls-Jazz Finals matchups in the late 90’s with the makeup of the teams and the types of players their stars are. It was like a modern day version of that only if Michael Jordan’s competitiveness was transferred into John Stockton.
It was nice to see Miami run some stuff at the end of the game where LeBron had to take shots, isolating him at the top of the key a few times after he set a pick for Wade. This is the kind of stuff that Dallas runs for Dirk Nowitzki.
LeBron was successful getting to the line some with this but it’s just amazing that maybe the best player in the game is so unskilled offensively from the standpoint that he really has no offensive moves. While I always wanted Miami to put LeBron in these situations, I just don’t see the point anymore. Wade has such an arsenal of moves he can get away with on the court that they really just need to go to him every time at the end of games no matter what.
Also, part of the reason LeBron was taking shots is that the Clippers were playing him straight up and not doubling or playing any zone.
Let’s just say that at the end of the day, the Clippers won because LeBron was not able to score on Jordan.