When the moment came and it was time to take over the game, stashing another victory in their bags before heading home from the season's first trip, the Clippers were poised and efficient Tuesday in knocking off the Miami Heat.
Poised and efficient aren't normally associated with the Clippers, but those were two excellent ways to describe their play while turning a taut game into a laugher. Patient was another. Instead of forcing the issue, the Clippers simply waited for the Heat to crack, then seized control.
A 24-1 run in the second half sent the Heat reeling and propelled the Clippers to a 101-82 victory before 15,022 fans at American Airlines Arena. A swarming zone defense helped the Clippers rally from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter and earn a split on their four-game trip.
Elton Brand scored 25 points on 12-for-17 shooting and took 20 rebounds in 47 minutes for the Clippers (3-4). Michael Olowokandi scored 19 points, including 17 in the second half. Andre Miller scored 22 points, making 14 of 15 free throws, and had eight assists. Corey Maggette scored 19 points and Eric Piatkowski had 13.
"It was just an absolute collapse," Miami Coach Pat Riley said. "We were playing the game just as well as we can play it. We were very aggressive. [Then] we couldn't make the shot or the play. We lost all of our aggressiveness and our movement when they slowed it down offensively."
The Clippers' defensive pressure in the second half was the turning point, however. According to Coach Alvin Gentry, the Clippers gave up only six baskets to the Heat in 30 possessions while playing a 1-2-2 zone.
The zone helped trigger the 24-1 run, which began with Olowokandi's layup that cut Miami's lead to 65-59 with 3:28 remaining in the third quarter. Olowokandi's nine-foot hook that gave the Clippers an 81-66 lead with 9:01 left in the game capped the team's best basketball so far this season.
"Playing a zone has been the key for us," Olowokandi said.
The Clippers have used their zone in short bursts this season, trying to catch the opposition off guard. They used it for most of the second half against Miami.
Forced to try to win the game from the outside, the Heat failed miserably. Miami made 11 of 37 shots (29.7%) in the second half and was outscored, 56-31.
"It's a very soft zone," Riley said. "The middle is wide open and the ball has to get there. You have to make it collapse and then you have to take what you can get."
Miami overcame a sluggish start and led, 45-32, after Rasual Butler's three-point basket with 3:42 left in the half. Butler led Miami with 15 points.
The Clippers moved within 51-45 by halftime and gradually chipped away at the lead. They went ahead to stay, 69-66, when Maggette scored on a driving layup and made a free throw to complete a three-point play with 42.8 seconds left in the third. Eddie Jones' free throw was the only point the Heat managed during the Clippers' run.
"They got some shots, but they didn't knock them down," Brand said after his first 20-20 game this season. "We have some athletic guys that can contest the shot out of that zone and it changed the game around."
In the end, the Clippers came within one Brand missed shot from having a 3-1 trip against the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic and the Heat. Brand left a five-foot jumper short against the 76ers and the Clippers lost, 101-99, in overtime to start the trip.
The Clippers had a lead in the fourth quarter against New Jersey, but the Nets rocketed away down the stretch. The Clippers stormed back to defeat Orlando, then muzzled the Heat to complete an encouraging trip.
"We did all right," Maggette said. "These were games we were capable of winning. I think we realized in the last two games that our big men [Brand and Olowokandi] are our keys and we started cutting down on our turnovers. We have to be consistent."