With a little more than five minutes to go in the first half on Friday night, Justise Winslow rose over J.J. Redick and flipped a hook shot toward the basket for what might have been an easy bucket had DeAndre Jordan not been lurking.
Instead, last season’s All-NBA First-Team center swatted Winslow’s shot past midcourt. It served as the signature moment on a night when the Clippers and Jordan didn’t tolerate any soft shots from the Heat — verbal or otherwise — and hung on for a 102-98 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat (9-18), which trailed by as many as 16 points with 4:46 left in the third quarter, rallied to within a basket of Los Angeles (20-7) late. But after Chris Paul missed the second of two free throws with 9.2 seconds to go, Jordan grabbed his 19th rebound and scored over James Johnson, effectively clinching the game as Heat center Hassan Whiteside watched from the bench.
“We had a three-point play designed,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra explained of why his 7-foot, 265-pound center was on the bench and not on the court to box out the 6-11, 265-pound Jordan. “I figured Chris Paul was going to knock in both of those. Even if he doesn’t, I figured we can get one rebound.
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“Obviously, knowing now Chris Paul would miss, I probably would have had Hassan in the game. But it would have changed that last play. I wanted a lot of playmaking and to be able to get the best available three [-point shot at the end]. It’s tough when it comes down to that.”
Asked about not being on the court for the final sequence, Whiteside responded: “I don’t really know what to say to that. I don’t know. You’ll have to write no comment for that.”
The Heat had plenty of encouraging performances in the second half. Winslow finished with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and four rebounds in only his second game back after missing 16 consecutive games with a sore left wrist.
Goran Dragic had 21 points and 11 assists, and Johnson, despite playing only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, had 12 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. It helped cancel out 20 points and eight rebounds by Blake Griffin and 17 points and six assists by Paul, Los Angeles’ All-Stars.
But it was ultimately Jordan who won the key battle of the night.
He blocked three shots in all, grabbed 19 boards, scored 12 points and didn’t let Whiteside have the kind of night he was hoping for after Miami’s $98 million center had said on Thursday that all Jordan scores on are off lobs.
Whiteside, who backed off those comments Friday, saying he never intended to disrespect a fellow big man, finished with 11 points, 17 rebounds and one block in 30 minutes. But outside of a third-quarter dunk, Whiteside did his scoring further away from the basket from where he usually does and finished 5 of 12 from the field.
Jordan, meanwhile, made five of his seven shots from the field and all were within five feet of the basket, including a pair of dunks.
“That’s what he does — rebound, get buckets, make shots,” Paul said of Jordan.
Was it poetic justice after Whiteside’s comments?
“Come on, man — first-team All-NBA, first-team All-Defense,” Paul replied. “He don’t have to say anymore.”
Dragic said Jordan’s presence in the paint is overwhelming.
“He’s probably the best screener in the league,” Dragic said. “When he sets a screen, my God, it’s really tough to get over. He’s a unique player. He’s protecting the paint, he’s always in the right spot. He’s always vocal. He talks more than [Paul], I think. You can feel his presence in the paint. It’s not like when you play different teams. It’s way different.”
Whiteside said he didn’t see Friday night’s matchup as a battle between him and Jordan.
“It wasn’t really a matchup to me,” he said. “I wasn’t focused on the matchup. I was just trying to keep Chris Paul from getting inside [the paint].”
Miami shot just 40.9 percent for the game, finished 6 of 27 from the three-point arc (22.2 percent) and once again struggled from the free-throw line, finishing 16 of 25 (64 percent). The Heat has been the worst free-throw shooting team in the league all season.
After trading buckets about evenly in the first quarter with Los Angeles, Miami went ice cold in the second period with its bench on the floor. The Heat missed 10 of its first 11 shots in the quarter, made only 6 of 25 in the period and went into halftime down 60-46.
“It looked like we were a little bit flat, sluggish in the first half, weren’t really dictating or imposing any kind of will on the game,” Spoelstra said. “It really looked like we were showing them too much respect as a championship-caliber team and really got into the battle, into the competitive spirit of the game in the second half, and we had to crawl our way back in there. I enjoyed seeing our guys compete much better in the second half than the first half.”
▪ Wayne Ellington, one of the few Heat shooters who didn’t have trouble putting the ball in the basket, left midway through the third quarter with a mild hamstring strain, the team announced. Ellington was 6 of 9 from the field for 13 points in 22 minutes.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he feels [Saturday],” Spoelstra said. “Obviously, we want to be very cautious right now and judicious in all the evaluations and assessments because of what we are going through. He said after the game it felt like he could go back in. We’ll have to wait. Players, what they say and feel in the moment of competition could be different the next day.”