LOS ANGELES – Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, after the first morning shootaround of this road trip, knew what he wanted to see that night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“At some point, three or four or five times during these games on the road, you’re going to be tested emotionally, mental toughness-wise and we have to respond,” Spoelstra said. “I’m looking to see how we respond in tough situations away from our building. We’re not there yet. This is an opportunity to get there on this trip.”
Such a moment came with 5:44 left Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd and ESPN national audience after a Blake Griffin dunk left a fast-eroding Heat lead at four. And again with 1:04 left and the Heat lead down to two. They responded well enough to escape with a 116-112 win.
The first time, LeBron James ran off the next seven Heat points on a three-pointer, a runner off the glass and two free throws. James again missed a triple double by two rebounds, as he did Monday against Detroit, finishing with 31 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
But the Clippers rebounded – literally, with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan finishing with a combined 30 rebounds – to bring about Test Situation No. 2. The Heat set up Ray Allen in the corner for a three-pointer: 112-107. Then, James took a charge from Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who has air conditioned the Heat throughout his career and did so again Monday with 31 points. James hit one of two free throws and the Heat got it home from there despite a three-pointer from Griffin, who ended with 43 points.
Foul trouble limited the second half time for Heat forward Chris Bosh, but he still managed 15 points and eight rebounds. Heat guard Dwyane Wade finished with 14 points and eight assists. Coming up with clutch free throws and shots in the fourth quarter after an icy first three quarters, Heat guard Ray Allen got 15 points. Shane Battier threw in 14 points. Chris Andersen had 12 with seven rebounds.
The Heat held their morning shootaround at UCLA’s renovated Pauley Pavilion on the Nell and John Wooden Court. Wednesday night’s game against the Clippers played out beneath the retired jerseys of slick assist masters Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne (Magic Johnson, too, if you count the Lakers jerseys obscured by oversize Clippers pictures).
So of course, the Heat called forth a picturesque passing performance filled with plays that would’ve drawn appreciative grins from the Wizard of Westwood, The Great One and Magic.
The Heat hit 15 of their first 18 shots. Official statisticians might’ve missed a Heat assist in the first quarter. They got the other 15 -- on the Heat’s 16 first quarter baskets.
By midway through the third quarter, all five Heat starters were in double figures for scoring, had at least two assists and only Dwyane Wade didn’t have at least two three-pointers. Turnovers? Only seven.
Every time the Clippers closed the gap to five or seven, the Heat would whip the ball around, drop in a three-pointer or two and maybe a dunk.