This week, the historically lowly Los Angeles Clippers beat the star-studded Miami Heat. Some have taken this to mean that the Clippers have arrived; have lived up to the preseason hype that accompanied the acquisition of Chris Paul. This longtime Clippers fan, however, is not yet convinced.
First of all, they barely beat the Heat. In all fairness, the Heat lost the game and the Clippers just happened to be the other team on the floor that night.
While some of the credit is due to the Clips defensive effort, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Heat could have won the game in regulation at the free throw line. As a team, the Heat shot 20-for-34 from the line in the game, including 9-of-16 over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Lebron James led the charge, shooting 9-for-17 from the stripe with four misses down the stretch that would have either tied the score or given the Heat the lead. His final miss with 5.1 seconds remaining allowed the game to stretch to overtime.
The Heat continued to struggle through the overtime period, which was their second played in as many nights. They shot only 1-of-10 from the floor in the extra session, leaving the door open for a Clipper victory.
Secondly, the Clips were running a paltry 3-man offensive show in the first half, wherein only Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Mo Williams had scored after more than twenty minutes of play. With the sudden wealth of talent on the Clippers' roster this year, they will have to demonstrate more offensive diversity in order to succeed against the league's elite teams. While both Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups eventually got into the act, each scoring in double-figures by game's end, their relative absence in the first two stanzas is cause for concern.
And third, this was only the Clippers second win this season against a winning team. Beating Golden State, Houston, and Milwaukee doesn't make up for big losses to better teams like San Antonio and Chicago. Their only other notable win so far came against a Portland team that beat them right back earlier this week, nullifying any real ground gained.
For this year's Clippers to fulfill their new-found potential, they must win consistently against playoff-caliber teams. Beating the Heat in January means very little come May. It should be noted that the Heat were little more than a .500 team at this stage of last season, before they seemingly found the cohesion needed to carry them all the way to the NBA Finals. A number of lesser teams found ways to beat them early in the year, only to find themselves watching from home as the Heat burned through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. The Clippers were one of those teams last year, handing the Heat a loss 367 days ago. Following the win, then-Clipper shooting guard, Eric Gordon, raved that the win was the best of his Clipper career.
This marks the clear discrepancy between the top-tiered teams in the NBA and the Clippers as we've known them; the former will settle for nothing less than championships, while the latter bathe in the glory of a single regular season home victory. Even more so when televised. Can you imagine players from the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Spurs, Mavericks, or even the Heat listing regular season wins amongst their greatest ever? Think Kobe ever hung his hat on a meaningless, January, one-game winning streak?
The best teams play for the "second season," and nothing less. Regular season foes are seen as mere obstacles and practice dummies for contenders, not career-defining opportunities. Sure, they serve as a measuring stick for performance. And, yes, every game is reflected in the standings. But, for the players on those teams striving to write their names in the history books, a career pinnacle marked by an all-but-irrelevant mid-season conquest would be cause for retirement.
Thankfully, the new Clippers seem to be coming to terms with this winning approach. When asked, post-game, about the win over the Heat this week, Blake Griffin had the following response:
"It's just another win. We can't hang our hat on that. It's about winning these games and winning the so-called smaller games because that's what puts your franchise in a winning position."
Exactly! Wining games because that is what winning teams do.
Oh, and it's also great when they do this...
For full game highlights, click on the following link: