LOS ANGELES — All those 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, from the hand of Landry Shamet, were the sauce.
The meat of the Clippers’ victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday came on the defensive end, tenderized by center Ivica Zubac.
The Heat led at halftime, 58-55, running the offense through center Bam Adebayo, a first-time All-Star, and getting three 3-pointers from UCSB alum Gabe Vincent (he would miss his eight other shots).
Zubac didn’t really have a low-post guy to play against. “I had to go out on the floor and watch the back cuts,” he said.
But eventually, the game comes into the deep paint, and Zubac was waiting.
He blocked two shots by Kendrick Nunn in the first two minutes of the second half. Miami’s Jimmy Butler left with an injury. Miami was already holding out James Johnson and Justise Winslow, pending a trade with Memphis for Andre Igoudala. The batteries were low.
The Clippers banged home seven 3-pointers in the first 7:10 of the quarter. Behind 87-78, Adebayo got into the lane against Zubac, tried a ball fake, looked outside, looked in again, and Zubac never abandoned his sense of verticality.
So Adebayo was called for a 3-second violation. When Zubac got to the bench he got a rousing high-five from assistant coach Sam Cassell.
“Sam’s always on me,” Zubac said, smiling, “telling me to improve. Tonight I did everything he told me to do, and I did it right.”
And the Clippers went on to stroke 24 3-pointers in 54 tries and run away from Miami 128-111.
“I had to guard a big who handles the ball a lot,” Zubac said. “It’s a different role than usual, not being in the paint. We made a couple of mistakes, but we did a better job in the second half.”
The Heat shot 9 for 25 in that quarter and got blitzed 37-22. Miami played a more insistent fourth quarter and got to within seven with 2:23 left, but the Clippers found Shamet twice in the corner, and those buckets boosted the Clippers to 36-15, second-best in the Western Conference.
“I’ve gotten better at calling out coverages, communication, and being vertical when they’re attacking me in the paint,” Zubac said. “I do a better job of standing in front of the guards than I used to. I can take it to a higher level as far as reading the offenses, reading where all of our guys are, so I can get into the right position.”
Shamet’s 23 points led a 70-point volley from the Clippers’ bench, but Zubac hit all six of his shots and had three blocks and eight rebounds. He is only being asked to play 18 minutes per game and got to 21 in this one.
A year ago Friday, the Lakers shipped Zubac and Michael Beasley to the Clippers for Mike Muscala. It was a crosstown present that the Clippers used to win their way into the playoffs and take two road games from Golden State in their first-round series. As we later saw, the Lakers had to clear space for more established 7-footers, and you can’t keep and pay everybody. But the change has been outstanding for Zubac, who does not turn 23 until March.
The trade deadline is Thursday (noon PT), and teams like the Heat had to go through the motions of a basketball game while pursuing the serpentine logistics of an NBA trade (or two – Miami is reportedly in pursuit of former Clipper Danilo Gallinari, now with Oklahoma City).
For the first time in a long time, the Clippers weren’t really involved in the deadline shuffle, although that can change, of course.
“It doesn’t really feel like the deadline is happening in this locker room,” Zubac said. “Nobody’s really talking or thinking about it. You can’t do anything about it.
“With social media, you see everything that is going on. It’s our job to play against those guys. But I never really thought about it when I was younger. I just wanted to play and that’s all I worried about. If someone wanted to trade for me, I always thought it was a good sign.”
Which, of course, is the way every player in every sport should look at trades, unless you’re being dealt because you have one of those (dramatic whisper) “expiring contracts,” and your value is dependent on how quickly you can be expunged. Otherwise, players should only start worrying when they quit hearing the rumors.
According to Coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers improved with each pass. In one third-quarter possession, all five players on the floor touched the ball, and Kawhi Leonard capitalized with a jumper.
“It was all ball movement,” Rivers said, “because our spacing was so bad in the first half. Guys were saying they could drive the ball and I was saying, no, let’s shoot it. Miami was playing zone and we couldn’t see what we should be doing. In the second half, we did that.”
Generally, other NBA teams should want to trade with the Clippers. It’s preferable to trading baskets.
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) February 6, 2020
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