Clippers point guard Darren Collison tries to steal the ball from Heat guard… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
If it was a Finals preview, you would want it to go nine games.
Or maybe 11.
There were times Wednesday when the Clippers and Miami Heat were as indistinguishable as actor Michael Douglas and Heat President Pat Riley, shown on the Staples Center scoreboard seated next to each other.
There was highlight after highlight after highlight. And that was just the first three times LeBron James touched the ball.
The Clippers' Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford kept the video replay crew busy with two-handed dunks and reverse layups and wild three-pointers while falling down.
The Heat ultimately one-upped the Clippers, 116-112, but the real winners were the constantly wowed fans and a national television audience that probably wouldn't mind seeing more of this matchup in late June.
ABC executives could certainly do worse than Clippers versus Heat in prime time. Way worse.
If the Clippers could make things this competitive without star point guard Chris Paul and sharpshooter J.J. Redick, just imagine the kind of intensity this matchup could generate once they return.
A supercharged crowd that included actress Olivia Wilde, producer Judd Apatow, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel didn't even seem to mind that the Clippers used a hand-me-a-roster-to-look-them-up lineup that included Sasha Vujacic, Willie Green and Hedo Turkoglu at one point in the second quarter.
It turned out that almost all the Clippers needed was Crawford and Griffin.
Crawford (31 points) continually made three-pointers and fed Griffin (43 points) for alley-oops that helped the Clippers wipe out most of a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter. Crawford's floater in the lane with 1 minute 4 seconds left brought the Clippers to within 109-107.
A three-pointer from the corner by Miami's Ray Allen eventually sapped the Clippers' comeback hopes.
But there are still hopes for a sequel in a few months.
James was a polarizing figure as always, drawing the loudest boos in pregame introductions but also prompting scores of fans to rise to their feet in appreciation of several plays. He chased down Darren Collison from behind on a fastbreak and swatted his layup off the backboard, then fed Chris Andersen with a perfectly placed alley-oop pass.
Even before the drama unfolded, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers realized the opportunity for his team to show it could beat a contender without Paul.
"They're the world champs and until we get a notice that they're not, then that's the team you have to try to beat," Rivers said of the Heat before tipoff. "I mean, I hear all this other stuff about these other teams. Miami is the team to beat, period."
The Clippers could be in the conversation once it gets Paul back.
It appears that could happen as soon as Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers after Rivers said he didn't think his star point guard could return for Friday's game against the Toronto Raptors.
Even at full strength, the Heat came into the game with issues. Chief among them, according to Coach Erik Spoelstra, was a lack of defensive consistency.
"We talk about the process all the time of building and getting to our identity," Spoelstra said. "We've been inconsistent with that so far up to this point of the year. It's not about our record, it's about how we're playing. We know we can get to another level and hopefully this road trip can help us get there."
The Heat raised its game about five notches during a first quarter in which it made 15 of its first 18 shots, including a few of the no-no-no … yes! variety.
Mario Chalmers chucked up a three-pointer with the shot clock expiring that somehow went in, inducing groans from the crowd. Andersen, who will never appear in any shooting contest, made a long baseline jumper. Shane Battier hit a three-pointer to end the quarter. It was that kind of start for the Clippers.
The Clippers will want to fix a few things before a possible rematch.
Their interior defense was questionable, supposed stopper DeAndre Jordan allowing too many easy forays to the basket. Their bench produced a whopping five points. Their sense of timing was dreadful, Green reaching up to foul Allen on a made three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
They'll also want to avoid going two on five the next time they play the Heat.
They hope they get the chance sooner rather than later.