The Heat’s winning formula this season has pretty much amounted to this: play suffocating defense and turn to leading scorers and future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to pull them through late.
On Sunday, Wade said, the Clippers gave the Heat “a taste of our own medicine.”
Behind a pair of late three-pointers from All-Star point guard Chris Paul and some tough interior paint patrolling from center DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers held the Heat to under 40 percent shooting and handed Miami only its second loss in its last eight games, 100-93, at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“DeAndre Jordan is a helluva defender,” said Wade, who along with Bosh and point guard Goran Dragic each scored 17 points to lead the Heat, but did it on a combined 19 of 50 shooting.
“He doesn’t get enough credit. He messes a lot of things up and he keeps you off balance. He did a great job of communicating. As a guard, you hear him talking and yelling and it kind of makes you think for a second. So, a lot of credit goes to him in the way they defended us.”
Miami, which has won six of its previous seven thanks to some changes in its offense, shot 39.8 percent, only the sixth time this season the Heat has been held under 40 percent. Miami is now 3-3 in those games.
Bosh, who said the ball wasn’t moving enough, missed 11 of his first 12 attempts from the field. But he hit four in a row in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer with 4:34 to play that trimmed the Clippers’ lead to 86-83.
But instead of fouling Jordan, a 42 percent free throw shooter, like it had been doing earlier in the game, the Heat opted to try and play defense. It backfired.
Paul, who led the Clippers with 22 points, buried back-to-back three-pointers and then fed Jordan for a dunk to put the game out of reach.
Spoelstra said afterward that in hindsight he should have opted to start fouling Jordan in that situation. Wade disagreed.
“If you are worrying about DeAndre Jordan missing free throws for you to win a ballgame,” Wade said. “Then you have already been beat."
One decision Spoelstra didn’t seem to regret: sitting center Hassan Whiteside in the fourth quarter.
Whiteside came off the bench for the third game in a row since his return and had 10 points and 10 rebounds in 17 minutes. But after he rolled his left ankle late in the third quarter going up for a rebound and leaving a few possessions later, Whiteside didn’t return.
Whiteside said afterward he felt healthy enough to continue playing and was surprised Spoelstra didn’t go back to him in the final period. Spoelstra said he simply wanted to stick with the group on the floor that had rallied the Heat from 12 points down to within a three-pointer.
“I’m not talking to coach about it,” said Whiteside, who was held without a block for only the third time this season. “We’ve talked about it so many times. Ain’t no reason to keep going to talk to him about it. I’m gonna just play.”
The Clippers (34-17) scored the first basket of the game on a J.J. Redick layup 18 seconds in, but missed their next 14 shots and went without a field goal for nearly nine minutes. But after trailing 19-15 after one quarter and most of the second quarter, Los Angeles took a 46-45 lead into the half when Redick connected on a three-pointer with 10.9 seconds left.
The Clippers never trailed again.
Paul missed his first his nine shots and was only 2 of 13 from the field in the first half. He finished 8 of 23.
The Heat shot a season-low 20 percent (4 of 20 from the field) in the third quarter, trailed 73-65 heading into the fourth quarter and scored only 30 points in the paint — more than 10 below their season average.
“They junked it up pretty good,” Bosh said. “DeAndre, when he was the floor general and pointing and talking and kind of patrolling the paint, it’s very, very tough. We didn't get the normal things that we get.”