That was… a weird basketball game. With both teams missing a handful of key players and struggling to play consistently on either end, the streaky Clippers were able to jump out to a big third-quarter lead and hold on to survive against the Miami Heat, 109-105.
Clippers vs Heat Game Summary
This one started about as poorly as it could have for the Clippers, as the Heat began the game 8-13 from deep and jumped out to an early big lead behind contributions from Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, Miami’s two two-way contract players who most fans have probably never heard of before. This is probably how other teams felt when Jamil Wilson, C.J. Williams, and Ty Wallace were lighting it up for the Clippers in 2018. The duo of Vincent and Strus had 22 of their 30 points in the first half as the Heat jumped out to a quick 21-9 lead, taking a 33-19 advantage into the second quarter.
Frankly, the Clippers were simply not good on either end to start the game. I noted on twitter that they lost both the execution and luck battles–the Heat were hot while the Clippers were cold, but they were also outplaying LA on both ends of the floor. The Clippers’ starting unit struggled to generate good looks, Serge Ibaka missed bunnies around the basket, and the team was constantly either dying on off ball screens or losing shooters to give Miami’s best marksmen clean looks from beyond the arc.
While the Clippers’ offensive downpour to take the lead came in the third quarter, the dynamic of the game changed in the second as Ivica Zubac came in and was immediately impactful on both ends. Time after time down the floor, he stepped up in help defense and protected the rim to turn the game into a slugfest and drag Miami’s offense down to the level of the Clippers’ sputtering attack. LA began doing just enough to chip into the lead: Lou Williams got to the free throw line, Ivica Zubac put in work on the offensive glass, Luke Kennard found 6 of his 8 points in the first half of the second quarter. The fight was present, and the Clippers were pretty much doing everything except hitting from three.
And then they did. After starting the game 1-14 from beyond the arc, Nicolas Batum’s trey with 4:15 left in the second sparked a stretch where the Clippers would hit 5-6 from beyond the arc, pulling into a tie before ultimately trailing by 2 at halftime. The shooting carried over into the third, thought: without their two offensive stars, LA put up a 40-point third quarter against Miami, largely due to shooting 9-14 from beyond the arc in the frame led by a 4-5 explosion from Batum.
The Clippers carried a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the battle wasn’t over. Miami began the period on a 10-0 run, and Tyler Herro woke up, scoring 12 points on 5-10 shooting in the frame. The Clippers, cooled off from their third quarter outburst, managed to find just enough points to keep the Heat at arm’s length, as Lou Williams and Marcus Morris combined for 16 of the team’s 21 fourth quarter points after slow starts. Thing seemed to be in hand when a Morris three put the Clippers back up 11 with 3:17 to play, but the Heat weren’t done yet. With Terance Mann on the bench in favor of a more offensive-minded group, Herro found a groove against Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka’s pick-and-roll defense, and the game began to slip away due to a series of disastrous decisions from Jackson.
At 1:34, he badly missed a stepback three after passing up an open look and allowing the defense to recover. With 47.1 seconds left, he casually turned the ball over against Miami’s pressure defense and Bam Adebayo drove to the rim for a three-point play to cut the lead to 6. Then, when Morris was pressured on the inbounds pass, Jackson called timeout with 27.5 seconds left despite the Clippers not having any timeouts remaining, resulting in a technical foul that gave the Heat a free throw and possession back. All of a sudden, the lead was down to 3 with 20.1 seconds left, and as the Clippers evaded Miami’s pressure the ball found itself back in Jackson’s hands. He went to the free throw line and missed the first shot, but was able to calm his nerves and connect on the second shot to maintain a two-possession lead. The Heat would get three shots up from deep in the final 20 seconds as the Clippers scrambled defensively, but that four-point lead was ultimately the final margin.
Clippers vs Heat Game Notes
- Balanced Attack: It’s easy to feel like the Clippers need a standout performance from someone on their supporting cast in order to win games without their stars. While nobody would complain about a 30-point outing from Lou Williams or Marcus Morris, LA proved tonight that they can win by getting contributions from across the roster–all nine guys scored at least 5 points, 6 players reached double figures, and nobody scored more than 20 points.
- Playing Through Pain: With his continued hip discomfort confirmed by visible pain in the first half, Lou Williams built some positive momentum tonight as he added 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals on 4-9 shooting, earning 9 free throw attempts. As I just mentioned, this wasn’t a case of Lou going insane and bailing the team out with a hot night, and he actually wasn’t even on the floor during their amazing third quarter run. But while the team was clawing its way back into the game in the second quarter and desperately looking to hold on to its lead in the fourth, Williams was one of the only avenues for consistent offensive creation that the team could come up with.
- Checking Bam: After I was effusive in my praise for Bam Adebayo in the game preview, he was pretty underwhelming tonight. That’s fine–even superstars have slow nights, and Bam is still a phenomenal young player. It’s probably a testament to just how good he is that 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists can be seen as a disappointing night.
- Fatigue: Tired legs can always catch up to guys on long road trips, especially on back-to-backs, and especially when close games and short benches leave little opportunity to rest. In their current state, the Clippers hardly have third string players to play in garbage time, even if the game hadn’t come down to the closing seconds. All of the Clippers, but particularly Williams with his hip injury and Jackson, who has played 39 and 37 minutes the last two games, could start to feel fatigue on the second game of this back-to-back tomorrow in Orlando. Frankly, splitting these two games was the goal, so any success the Clippers find tomorrow would be gravy–what they really need is to hope that the fresh legs of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are able to rejoin them sooner rather than later.
- Gabe Vincent: Okay, I might be being a little pedantic here, but can we please stop expressing shock at Gabe hitting a couple of threes against the Clippers despite shooting just 21.1% from deep on the season up to this point? A quick google search will show you that not only does Vincent–a two-way contract player–lack a meaningful sample of NBA shots to evaluate, but that a very large sample exists from his time in the NBA G-League last season… where he shot 40.6% from three on over ten attempts per game. It’s more surprising that he missed shots in his prior games than it is that he made shots tonight.
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