Clippers look the part in huge win over Heat

Clippers look the part in huge win over Heat

Published Jan. 11, 2012 11:03 p.m. ET

But it didn’t look that way and it
didn’t feel that way. Staples Center was jumping, the Los Angeles
Clippers were jousting with the Miami Heat, and you wanted to believe
this is what the playoffs must look like.

More than that, the
Clippers were taking a giant step forward as a team. After so much talk
about trying to grow as a team, it’s possible they may have grown up
Wednesday night.

“When you have an opportunity in this level of
game, it builds confidence, it builds trust in one another,” coach Vinny
Del Negro said.

That’s what they’ve been looking for. Their
95-89 overtime victory against an elite NBA team like Miami was the kind
of game they can bank away. It came one night after they lost a tough
game at Portland and three nights before they meet the Lakers in Part
One of the Battle for LA.

The intensity level was cranked up all
the way, and the Clippers survived by chasing, then catching, passing
and tying the Heat in the fourth quarter. There were 20 lead changes in
the game.

“The level was definitely raised a little bit,” said
Griffin, who totaled 20 points and 12 rebounds. “Both teams were coming
off back-to-backs, so we were both a little bit tired. Toward the end,
the intensity was as high as it should be. It’s a good experience for us
as a team. It’s good to get a win that way and have to grind it out.”

Paul had 27 points and took command of the game in the third quarter.
Center DeAndre Jordan, whose defensive output had been underwhelming the
past two games, came on strong in the second half and finished with 11
rebounds and six blocked shots, including one in overtime against Chris
Bosh. Reggie Evans had eight rebounds off the bench.

Del Negro,
asked what he learned about his team, said, “Nothing I didn’t know, but
we haven’t been through this as a team, as a unit, and how guys handle
different situations, the execution it takes at both ends. There’s going
to be mistakes out there, but we have to limit those as much as
possible and you have to trust your teammates.”

They’re finally
doing that, trusting each other in tough moments and relying on one
another in close games. Paul said he and Chauncey Billups have been
through this kind of game before on other teams, but he wasn’t sure how
players like Griffin and Jordan would react in tight moments.

But now he’s seen them and knows.

got to see it and feel it,” Paul said. “I’m sure they had close games
last year, but we stayed talking to each other, and most of all, in
order to get this win, we had to be together. That’s what it’s all about
for us, sticking together and making sure we’re being a team.”

scored 11 of his 27 in the third quarter, hitting jump shots and
driving inside or throwing alley-oops to Griffin and Jordan. He cooled
off in the fourth but sank a fadeaway jumper that broke a 78-78 tie.

unbelievable,” Griffin said. “It’s so tough to guard him just because
you don’t know what he’s going to do. He can hit the jumper, he can get
to the rim, he can shoot the floater or pass. That’s why he’s the best
point guard in the league. We needed him tonight in a big way and he
stepped up in a big way.”

Really, they all did. In overtime,
Caron Butler made a 19-footer, then fed Jordan for a short jump shot
that gave the Clippers a 90-86 lead. The Heat didn’t help themselves,
going just 1 for 10 in overtime. LeBron James (23 points) and Dwyane
Wade (17) were both 0 for 3.

But this wasn’t about the Heat. It
was about the Clippers, who won a game that let them know they’re able
to grind away and stay together and grow.

A signature win? Maybe not.

not,” Griffin said. “This is a win for us. We as a team, we come into
games expecting to win. We come into every game expecting to win. It’s
just a win.”

But a big win.