Marta Lavandier/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Clippers held on to beat the Miami Heat 109-105 at AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday despite absences from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Of course, the Heat were missing Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley, Goran Dragic and Andre Iguodala.
That gave the likes of Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum the chance to step up for Los Angeles (14-5) after the team fell to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. The duo combined for 34 points and spoiled Tyler Herro’s return to Miami’s lineup after missing the last seven games with a neck injury.
The shooting guard went 8-of-21 from the field as the Heat (6-12) lost their fifth straight.
Nicolas Batum, PF, Los Angeles Clippers: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
Serge Ibaka, C, Los Angeles Clippers: 10 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists
Tyler Herro, SG, Miami Heat: 19 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists
Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat: 16 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists
Clippers Rally Back After Sluggish Start
Even with George and Leonard sidelined Thursday, the Clippers had reason to be confident in their ability to pull off a victory. Miami’s start to the season has been sluggish, and its wave of injuries hasn’t helped matters.
So when the Heat went up by 18 early in the first half, it seemed like this would be a missed opportunity. Instead, Los Angeles took control with a 40-point third quarter, going up by as much as 19 before the Heat nearly stole a win at the end of regulation.
Thursday’s film might not be worth saving, but the win looks even bigger given the Los Angeles Lakers lost to Detroit earlier in the night. That gives the Clippers sole possession of first place of the Pacific Division and leaves them just a half game behind the Utah Jazz (14-4) for the best record in the league.
Head coach Tyronn Lue was able to regroup his team after the slow start, and it got balanced scoring as six players finished in double figures.
That’s not to say it didn’t get dicey for L.A. at the end.
Jackson, who’d been solid as a primary ball-handler for most of the game, committed a brutal gaffe, calling for a timeout after grabbing a rebound with the Clippers up six and 27.5 left in regulation. Los Angeles was out of timeouts, though, so all Jackson did was put Herro on the line for a technical free throw and earn an extra possession for Miami.
The Clippers point guard was irate. He atoned moments later by sinking a free throw to put the game out of reach.
For a team that made a habit of collapsing last season, signs of progress have been easy to spot under Lue.
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A Herro’s Return
It may have taken Herro a bit to get back to his normal self after missing nearly two weeks. He needed all of three quarters before he was once again Miami’s go-to spot-up shooter.
After starting out the night 1-of-5 from the field with two points in his first 12 minutes, Herro scored 11 of his game-high 19 points in the final frame, helping the Heat come within a few possessions of retaking the lead.
Of all the promising signs for Miami on Thursday—the continued emergence of Gabe Vincent (18 points), the three-point display from Max Strus (4-of-6, 12 points) and a ferocious dunk from Precious Achiuwa (10 points)—it was Herro’s ability to jump back into a rhythm that may prove most vital.
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This isn’t the norm for players who miss multiple games in a row and return with 32 minutes in their first contest. Butler, Dragic and Iguodala all may need a bit more time to get their feel for the speed of an NBA game back.
That Herro was able to brush away his layoff so quickly—and mostly out of necessity—should only provide head coach Erik Spoelstra with more ways to score an easy bucket when the offense stalls.
If the Heat are going to make another run in the Eastern Conference, getting everyone playing to their potential again will require more patience than anything. With Herro filling the stat sheet the way he did Thursday, that task gets significantly easier.
Miami’s six-game homestand continues against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET with the Charlotte Hornets coming to town Monday. The Clippers, meanwhile, head upstate to Orlando where they’ll take on the Magic at 8 p.m. ET on Friday.