Maybe this is a game the Clippers will look back at and identify as a turning point in their season, remembering it as a show of perseverance when they had every excuse to give in to exasperation after their poor early shooting against Miami and the absence of their injured frontcourt stars Wednesday seemed to consign them to a loss.
The Clippers’ 104-90 victory over the Heat at Staples Center was their 10th win in a row but their first in that streak earned at the expense of an elite team. It was all the more impressive because they had to do it without Blake Griffin, who missed his ninth straight game because of a quadriceps muscle injury, and DeAndre Jordan, who has pneumonia and missed a game for the first time after playing 360 in a row.
If they were lucky to face the Heat while Miami is deep into a six-game trip, had to play without injured guard Goran Dragic and has slid into a 1-4 slump, every team has injuries and slumps and the Clippers simply played the hand they were dealt — and played it well.
Los Angeles Clippers' Austin Rivers, center, tries to grab a loose ball in between Miami Heat’s Tyler Johnson, left, and Josh Richardson during their game at the Staples Center on Wednesday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Clippers’ Josh Smith, left, contests a shot by Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh during their game at the Staples Center on Wednesday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Clippers' Jamal Crawford, center, celebrates his three-point shot late in the 4th quarter that helped seal a win during their game at the Staples Center against the Miami Heat on Wednesday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Clippers Coach Doc Rivers reacts as the Clippers take on the Miami Heat at Staples Center on Wednesday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Clippers’ Cole Aldrich, center, and Paul Pierce, right, try to rebound with Miami Heat’s Gerald Green during their game at the Staples Center on Wednesday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Clippers' Jamal Crawford, left, goes after a loose ball against Miami Heat’s Luol Deng during their game at the Staples Center on Wednesday.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Clippers' Lance Stephenson, right, gets a hand on the ball while Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade tries to looks for a pass during their game at the Staples Center on Jan. 13.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Miami Heat’s Gerald Green, right, attempts a 3-pointer over Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul Pierce during the first half on Wednesday.(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade stands on the court against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half on Wednesday.(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh, right, brings in a defensive rebound next to Los Angeles Clippers’ Cole Aldrich during the first half on Wednesday.(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Los Angeles Clippers’ Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, left, and Miami Heat’s Justise Winslow reach for a loose ball during the first half on Wednesday.(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, left, controls the ball in front of Los Angeles Clippers’ J.J. Redick during the first half on Wednesday.(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Paul Pierce, taking a leadership role without Griffin and Jordan, wouldn’t let them lose. “He and the whole team were frustrated at halftime,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “He said, ‘Just keep playing.’”
They outscored Miami in the third quarter, 34-17. Overall, the Clippers won because they prevailed in the paint (42-32), on second-chance points (14-3) and because they got help from some unlikely sources.
Center Cole Aldrich, pressed into starting duty at center in place of Jordan, had season highs with 19 points and seven rebounds in a season-high 24 minutes while guarding Chris Bosh (11 points) most of the night. Pierce, who was three for 16 from the field in his previous two games, was six for 10 and had 15 points and a season-best nine rebounds.
Closest to Rivers’ heart, Pablo Prigioni had a career-high eight steals, matching the league high this season. “He’s a crafty, veteran player,” said Rivers, who holds the Clippers single-game record of nine. “Eight steals in 14 minutes is impressive.”
If the first nine victories in their winning streak were games the Clippers were supposed to win, those games still served an important purpose in allowing them to experiment with their rotation and refine their defensive play.
“Our goal is to be third or second,” reserve guard Austin Rivers said before the game. “We’ve got to keep getting better and better and eventually, at the end of the year, end first. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve just got to take it game by game.”
Any progress they make, he said, will result from their defensive play.
Miami committed 24 turnovers Wednesday, many of them under intense pressure.
The Clippers’ improvement on that end, Austin Rivers said, has been the best gain from this streak.
“We’re communicating really well,” he said. “We have each other’s back on defense and we’re starting to really defend every game and make it tough for people to score, which is leading to everything else.”
John Legend and Chrissy Teigen sit courtside for the final Kobe Bryant-LeBron James matchup on March 10, 2016, at Staples Center.(Danny Moloshok / Associated Press)
Cam Newton takes in the Cavaliers-Lakers game on March 10, 2016, when Kobe Bryant and LeBron James played against each other for the final time.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Beyonce and Jay Z take in the Clippers’ 103-98 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 2, 2016.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Clippers guard Chris Paul, left, is congratulated by Billy Crystal after a 97-83 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 9.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Jay Z watches the Clippers pick up their 10th consecutive winy with a 104-90 victory over the Miami Heat on Jan. 13.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Freida Pinto and polo player Ronnie Bacardi watch the Lakers play the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 15, 2015.
(Danny Moloshok / AP)
Olivia Wilde talks to Will Forte during a Clippers game against the Orlando Magic on Dec. 5, 2015.(Mike Nelson / EPA)
Jack Black arrives for a Lakers game against the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 20, 2015.(John Salangsang / John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
Drake attends the game between the Lakers and his hometown Toronto Raptors on Nov. 20, 2015.(John Salangsang / Invision)
Will Ferrell has food delivered to his courtside seat during a game between the Lakers and Detroit Pistons on Nov. 15.(Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
Kendall Jenner watches the Lakers take on the Dallas Mavericks during a game Nov. 1, 2015.(Mike Nelson / EPA)
Arsenio Hall and George Lopez check out a season-opening game between the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 28, 2015.(Harry How / Getty Images)
Recording artist Snoop Dogg attends a playoff game between the
Actors Billy Crystal, left, and Timothy Olyphant attend a playoff game between the
Actor Eddie Murphy and girlfriend Paige Butcher attend the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the
Actress Mindy Kaling attends a game between the
Aldrich agreed, but also praised Chris Paul’s veteran leadership while Griffin has been out.
“I think defensively we’ve been really good. Offensively, we’ve had some guys really step up,” said Aldrich, whose missing tooth and jagged row of stitches above his eyebrow gave him a strong resemblance to a hockey player.
“Austin had a few games where he played unbelievable and Chris, this whole month, has just been playing great. With Blake out we need those guys to step up and they have, and it’s just a way to continue to have trust in our guys.”
In each other, they trust. With that trust they’ve built a 10-game winning streak, piece by solid piece.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter: @helenenothelen