Dwyane Wade scored 29 and LeBron James had 18 Thursday night in a 102-97 Miami Heat win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The game marked the biggest test the Heat has faced this season, with many observers predicting these two teams will meet in the finals come June.
Miami passed the test.
Behind a youthful, spry, energetic-looking Dwyane Wade, the Heat adjusted to the Clippers' first-half offensive game plan, holding the Clips to just 41 points in the second half. On a night when LeBron took three quarters to reach double digits (for the 501st consecutive time, by the way), Wade took over scoring duties and looked fantastic, sporting a jumper that had noticeably more spring from the legs than it has in months.
The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin, who scored 27 points and had 14 rebounds in the loss. The biggest factor in the Heat's victory might have been the defensive job the team did on Chris Paul. The Clippers superstar finished just 3-11 for 11 points, and though he notched 11 assists, he was held without one for much of the second and third quarters, when the Heat figured out the Clippers' potent uptempo attack.
With all the chaos involving the Dolphins, Miami fans emphatically welcomed this win. The Heat had played just a couple of days before the Clippers matchup, but it felt like weeks. The turning point was three Shane Battier charges taken in less than five minutes during the third quarter.
Mario Chalmers did not record an assist for the night, all but ending his attempt at the record for assists in a season. OK, he still has a shot, but tonight hurt. Chalmers may have had just six points on 2-5 shooting, but he was visibly annoying the utter crap out of Chris Paul all night long, at one point taking an elbow to the throat from Paul, yet amazingly being called himself for a foul on the play.
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Ray Allen looked like Allen Iverson all night, slashing and dashing to the hole for 12 points on 5-8 shooting in 26 minutes off the bench. It's amazing how many years the Clippers defense can turn the clock back in just a single night.
Next up for the Heat is a visit from the Boston Celtics Saturday night, and yeah, that doesn't exactly have the same sexiness as it once did.