The Clippers can make a legitimate claim to the title of the league’s top team, or at the very least, the best in the Western Conference. Their record now stands at 6-2 after an impressive routing of the Heat on Wednesday 107-100, and the teams ahead of them in the standings — the Spurs and the Grizzlies — have already fallen to L.A. this season.
Perhaps it’s a little early to get into all of that, so let’s focus on the way the Clippers had little issue with dismantling the defending champs. It started with really off nights from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and it ended with Chris Paul.
Wade was a game-time decision coming into this one, after twisting his ankle in Monday’s win over Houston. It was evident that he was not himself; Wade finished with just six points on 2-of-10 shooting, and suffered this humiliation at the hands of Eric Bledsoe.
Bosh wasn’t hampered by injury, but the team defense of the Clippers’ bigs down low made it tough for him to get clean looks. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, but was a miserable 3-of-13 from the field himself.
Given the rough night from two of the Heat’s main men offensively, it was a bit of a surprise to see Miami leading at the half, and still within just two at 72-70 with 3:22 to play in the third quarter.
Chris Paul decided he’d had enough, apparently, because he went on a personal scoring tear to finish the third quarter which put the game permanently out of reach.
Paul started with a couple of free throws, then drained a long three-pointer from almost 10 feet behind the arc. The next trip down, Paul hit another three in rhythm, and the Clipper lead was now eight. He was feeling it, and drove to the hoop on the next possession, but was fouled. He hit two more free throws, then two more, then converted the technical free throw after Wade got tangled up with Ryan Hollins and shoved him with two hands to get free.
When it was all said and done, it was 13 straight points from Paul to end the period that began to put this game away for the Clippers. And to start the fourth, the bench unit finished the job.
Bledsoe picked up right where Paul left off, and scored eight straight Clippers points of his own to push the lead to 17. This, by the way, came while the Heat had their starters in to try and close the gap.
LeBron James finished with 30 points for Miami on better than 50 percent shooting, but he got virtually no help from anyone else. Midway through the fourth he could be seen yelling to the bench, “Don’t take me out, man. Don’t take me out.” He remained in and helped cut into the lead that reached as many as 20, but once it was still at 14 with about two and a half minutes to play, Spoelstra waived the white flag and James went to the bench.
Really solid win for the Clippers, one of many early in the season. L.A. has size, depth, and most importantly, a superstar who’s as competitive as they come, and who is capable of completely dominating the game in stretches when his team needs him the most.
For the Heat, there’s far from anything to worry about, and you wonder if the team is still in “whatever” mode a little bit and experiencing the effects of a championship hangover; it’s rare that you would see Miami get blown out like they did in L.A. and like they did in Memphis a couple of games ago, and the Heat (save for James) didn’t seem all that interested in clawing their way back once the lead reached the mid-double digits early in the fourth.
That’ll likely change as the season rolls on. But for now, teams like Memphis and the Clippers are more dialed in, more hungry, and are happy to flex their muscle like this to get big, confidence-fueling wins over the defending NBA champs.