The LA Clippers narrowly defeated the Miami Heat on Thursday night by a score of 109-105 in a game that had no business being as entertaining and emotionally draining as it was.
Despite an insane 37-point turnaround by the Clippers, the Heat still had an outside chance of stealing the game, coming back to within six points with just under 30 seconds to go in regulation. As Marcus Morris Sr. was inbounded the ball, Reggie Jackson noticed his teammate was being trapped and instinctively called timeout to save the possession. However, Jackson was unaware that the Clippers had no timeouts remaining, and this resulted in a technical foul that gave the Heat one free throw and the ball.
Jackson was visibly upset with himself for potentially costing his team a game in which they’d worked so hard to come back and win. But his teammates weren’t upset. They were talking Jackson up, giving him affirmation and letting him know it was all good. Nicolas Batum relayed what he and his teammates said in the huddle after Jackson’s mistake.
"We’re all going to make mistakes, but we just move on,” Batum recalled after the game. “We’ve got to stick together. That’s the team this year. That’s the strength of this team, and I love it."
Head Coach Tyronn Lue shared Batum's sentiment.
“All the guys said ‘Next play. It was a mistake, so what. Let’s get a stop coming out of the timeout.’ It’s something that happens. It’s over. The guys stuck behind him.”
Jackson would go on to hit a clutch free throw to seal the victory for his squad. Batum’s quote represented the Clippers’ attitude towards not only Jackson’s error, but towards the entirety of their game against the Heat.
Entering the game, the story of the night was the absurd amount of absences plaguing both squads: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley out for the Clippers; Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Andre Iguodala, Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless all out for the Heat. These extensive absentee lists are beginning to feel like the norm in the COVID-riddled NBA, and it can be easy for casual viewers to lose interest in games like these where recognizable names are few and far between. But those that stuck around were rewarded with a roller-coaster of a basketball game.
LA could not buy a basket in the first quarter, going just 1-9 from three and eventually falling behind by as many as 18. The Clippers were getting good looks despite missing their two offensive engines, but the shots simply weren’t falling. However, LA is statistically the best three-point shooting team in basketball, and this cold stretch couldn’t last forever. As it turned out, it only lasted one quarter. The Clippers made a ridiculous 14 of their next 25 threes, and turned an 18-point deficit into a 19-point lead after three quarters. The Clippers scored 40 points in the third quarter alone, hitting a franchise record-tying nine three-pointers.
It was a brilliant turnaround that represented more than the “make-or-miss league” adage. The depleted roster could’ve easily rolled over and died after the first quarter and chalked it up to their lack of star power. But they fought back, played the same style they’ve played all year that has given them one of the best records in the league, and earned themselves a validating win. It was truly a team effort, (six players in double-figures) with Nicolas Batum leading the charge.
Batum On Fire
In addition to his words of support, Batum also led by example, dropping 18 points and hitting six of his nine three-pointers, including four in the third quarter. The sample size continues to grow for Batum’s historic three-point shooting, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He’s turned into an absolute sniper for the Clippers, still hanging around 46% from downtown for the season. If he can sustain anything close to this level of production throughout the postseason, he could be a series-shifting weapon.
The Young Fellas Shine
Terrence Mann and Amir Coffey were given all they could handle with the Clippers’ stars sitting, and it’s safe to say they made Tyronn Lue proud. Mann (12 points) was team-high +17 and gave the Clippers some much-needed perimeter defense. He guarded Duncan Robinson for much of the game, and held the sharp-shooter to just 2-8 from the field. Coffey also contributed on the defensive end. Though he’d never recorded a steal in his first nine NBA games leading up to this one, he grabbed three of them, allowing his team to get out in transition for easy baskets. These younger players are going to get their minutes cut when Leonard and George return, but games like these give young players validation for their patience.
Lou Will Returns to Form
Lou Williams has struggled offensively since returning from a hip injury, shooting under 26% from the field in his last four games, but the Sixth Man broke out of his slump on Thursday, scoring 17 points off the bench and hitting eight of his nine free throws. Amidst all of the Lonzo Ball and Derrick Rose trade rumors, Williams proved he can still be a productive bench guard with a knack for drawing contact and creating out of pick-and-roll.
The Clippers are in the midst of a Florida Special, as they’ll face the Orlando Magic on Friday at 5 P.M. PST in a tough back-to-back scenario. It is still unclear whether Leonard and George will be cleared to play.