Kawhi-less Clippers can’t slow Heat in 3rd straight loss

LOS ANGELES — Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said he knew what his team needed to do to stop Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo. Slow him down. Clog up the middle. Take away the easy baskets.

Lue had experienced Adebayo’s dominance not long ago when the 6-foot-9 center torched them for 31 points and 10 rebounds in a Dec. 9, 2022 Heat victory.

The second time wasn’t any better. Or prettier.

On Monday night, the Clippers couldn’t figure out how to stop, slow or prevent Adebayo from getting to the basket. He had 31 points and 13 rebounds in the Heat’s 110-100 victory at Arena.

And if it wasn’t Adebayo scoring, it was Victor Oladipo (15 points, five rebounds) or Tyler Herro (23 points, seven rebounds) who gave the Clippers’ weary defense problems.

Perhaps more disturbing for the Clippers than their third consecutive defeat was watching Paul George grasp his right hamstring late in the third quarter. He left the game and returned midway through the fourth quarter.

He said it’s the same hamstring that caused him to miss three weeks earlier this season. Geoge, who had 25 points and seven assists on a night when the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard (non-COVID-19 illness), said he will get treatment “around the clock” before the team’s next game Thursday.

“Just take a day-to-day, see how I feel tomorrow,” he said. “Get myself the best chance to be able to compete. … I mean we won’t know more until tomorrow, but my job is to do the best that I can and go from there.”

The Clippers (21-18) were coming off a five-game, 10-day road trip in which they went 2-3 and gave up more than 130 points in two of the last three games. At the start, the Clippers appeared sluggish, even a step slow, which allowed the Heat to shoot 58.3% from the field in the first half as they led by as many as 21 points.

“I think we’re just locked in more so offensively, scoring the basketball instead of getting stops,” Lue said. “And that’s what our mindset has to be.

“It’s kind of easy when you’re shorthanded, you know you’re going to play hard every single night. You’re going to compete on a defensive end because that’s the way you have to try to win games and stay in games.

“But then when you get whole and you have great players on your team, you kind of relax on the defensive end because it’s so easy to score the basketball. We just can’t fall into that mindset. Every night when we step on the floor, we have to be ready to play defensively. Like that’s what’s going to get us going. And the last five or six games that urgency hasn’t been there.”

The Clippers, however, came out of halftime visibly energized, began getting stops and outscored the Heat 25-8 to start the third quarter to pull within 75-74 with 4:12 left.

George, who had just nine points in the first half, gave them the lead with a 3-pointer. He scored 13 of his team-high 25 points. He also had three rebounds and seven assists.

Marcus Morris Sr. added 14 points and Ivica Zubac had 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Clippers led 83-81 heading into the final quarter.

Lue called a quick timeout after Miami went on a 7-0 run to start the fourth, capped by John Wall’s turnover that led to a fast break and an 88-83 lead. The Heat stretched it to 94-89 on two dunks by Adebayo and a layup by Oladipo.

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The Clippers managed to get back into the game behind two baskets and a free throw by Luke Kennard (11 points) to cut the Heat’s lead to 96-95 with 5:39 left. Miami called a timeout and George checked back in after getting his right hamstring iced briefly on the bench.

George and John Wall had back-to-back turnovers and the Heat scored seven in a row to go ahead 103-95. The Clippers were held to 17 points in the fourth quarter.

“We couldn’t string enough stops to complete the game, I think. You come back from a deficit like that, you need to continue to just get stops,” said Terance Mann, who started in place of Leonard and had nine points.

That’s as close as the Clippers could get to avoiding their third consecutive loss before heading back on the road for games in Denver and Minnesota.

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