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BILL PLASCHKE

Clippers rise to the occasion in big win over Heat

After only showing flashes of brilliance in the games leading up to their showdown with Miami, the Clippers make a statement in a contest that lived up to the hype.

January 12, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, right, is called for a foul while blocking a shot by Miami forward LeBron James during the Clippers' 95-89 overtime victory Wednesday at Staples Center.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, right, is called for a foul while blocking… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Lob City became Mob City.

The Clippers hugged, their fans bounced, the rafters roared, the entire Staples Center danced as one late Wednesday in a coming-out party for the city's hottest new star.

Lordy, what a show.

In what could mark their first official step toward their promise of greatness, the Clippers grunted and ground and eventually soared atop their expectations in a 95-89 victory over a Miami Heat team that is considered the NBA's best.

"Very intense," said Blake Griffin afterward with a very relieved, very sweaty grin.

Intense and immense, the game featured an extended Heat lead until the Clippers fought back late and withstood repeated attacks from the great LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to force an extra period.

At which point, the Clippers potential reached reality in one giant alley-oop of an overtime, the white-shirted, wild-eyed home team holding the Heat to one-for-10 shooting while finishing them with an array of jumpers, layups, and DeAndre Jordan's clinching dunk.

Of course there would be a clinching dunk.

The stress was so great that seemingly all the fans watching acted as if they were playing, leaping and falling and crashing into each other with every Clippers move until finally, exhaustedly spilling into the streets.

Chris Paul, who had 27 points, 11 assists, and a monster final hour, felt it.

"When we play with this kind of energy, the sky is the limit," he said.

Griffin, who had 20 points, 12 rebounds and floor burns on seemingly every loose ball, felt it.

"Our guys stepped up and played it like a playoff game," he said.

Jordan, who had six blocked shots and a presence that rattled every drive into the lane, felt it.

"We know we can gut it out when we have to," he said.

Entering the game, there were questions as to how long it would take the Clippers to find their heart, seeing as they had started the season 4-3 with only intermittent flashes of brilliance.

It was as if they knew Wednesday night was time for a statement. It was the one of the biggest regular-season home games in the 28-year Los Angeles history of the Clippers, and even off the court, it lived up to the hype.

Not only did Billy Crystal show up, but so did the Clipper Stripper, a dude who tore off eight Clippers jerseys during one timeout. Rihanna was mugging it up courtside, Jered Weaver was trying to get past a security guard who didn't recognize him under the basket, and Damon Wayans somehow received a bigger cheer than anybody.

This was Clippers basketball in living color, and I can't tell you how many times I wrote "Lakers" in this column before correcting myself.

These are the kind of game the Lakers play. This is the sort of June atmosphere that the Lakers cultivate.

On Jan. 12 of last season, nearly exactly a year ago, the Clippers dominated the Heat here in an 111-105 victory, one of the most improbable NBA wins of the season.

This one was different. This one felt real.

"It wasn't a great win because of who we beat, but because of how we played in beating them," Griffin said.

How they played began and ended with Paul, whose preseason acquisition continues to change everything about this team. Paul missed a runner in the lane at the regulation buzzer, but it was Paul who put them in that position. He played his best game of the young season in the biggest moment of the young season, highlighted by a final-minute stretch in the third quarter that pushed the Clippers to the finish line.

In that stretch, he tied the game with a jumper, gave the Clippers a lead with a three-point play, then finished the quarter with a looping pass to a dunking Jordan to give the Clippers a one-point edge entering the fourth quarter.

For all of Griffin's toughness and theatrics, Paul is already the most important player on this team. He has his hands on the ball for every possession that he's on the court, he controls the tempo, the pace, and the energy.

When Paul is on the bench, the Clippers seem aimless. When Paul is in the backcourt, the Clippers are alive. On what could end up being one of the most important nights in their Los Angeles franchise history, they were all very much alive.

"We're not where we want to be right now, but I'll take my chances with this group," said Coach Vinny Del Negro before the game.

Good call.

"We have to eventually do a better job of trying to play the whole 48 minutes," Del Negro said.

They did.

"The expectations are off the charts, and that's good to see," Del Negro said.

They are, and, man, was it ever.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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