Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 1/12/12
LOS ANGELES OK, so maybe it wasn't a signature win. Maybe, like Blake Griffin said, it was just a win. One game in the schedule. Just another opponent in a long, tedious season. But it didn't look that way and it didn't feel that way. Staples Center was jumping, the Los Angeles Clippers were jousting with the Miami Heat, and you wanted to believe this is what the playoffs must look like. More than that, the Clippers were taking a giant step forward as a team. After so much talk about trying to grow as a team, it's possible they may have grown up Wednesday night. "When you have an opportunity in this level of game, it builds confidence, it builds trust in one another," coach Vinny Del Negro said. That's what they've been looking for. Their 95-89 overtime victory against an elite NBA team like Miami was the kind of game they can bank away. It came one night after they lost a tough road game at Portland and three nights before they meet the Lakers in Part One of the Battle for LA. The intensity level was cranked up all the way, and the Clippers survived by chasing, then catching, passing and tying the Heat in the fourth quarter. There were 20 lead changes in the game. "The level was definitely raised a little bit," said Griffin, who totaled 20 points and 12 rebounds. "Both teams were coming off back to backs, so we were both a little bit tired. Toward the end, the intensity was as high as it should be. It's a good experience for us as a team. It's good to get a win that way and have to grind it out." Chris Paul had 27 points and took command of the game in the third quarter. Center DeAndre Jordan, whose defensive output had been underwhelming the past two games, came on strong in the second half and finished with 11 rebounds and six blocked shots, including one in overtime against Chris Bosh. Reggie Evans had eight rebounds off the bench. Del Negro, asked what he learned about his team, said, "Nothing I didn't know, but we haven't been through this as a team, as a unit, and how guys handle different situations, the execution it takes at both ends. There's going to be mistakes out there, but we have to limit those as much as possible and you have to trust your teammates." They're finally doing that, trusting each other in tough moments and relying on one another in close games. Paul said he and teammate Chauncey Billups have been through this kind of game before on other teams, but he wasn't sure how players like Griffin and Jordan would react in tight moments. But now he's seen them and knows. "You've got to see it and feel it," he said. "I'm sure they had close games last year, but we stayed talking to each other, and most of all, in order to get this win, we had to be together. That's what it's all about for us, sticking together and making sure we're being a team." Paul scored 11 of his 27 in the third quarter, hitting jump shots and driving inside or throwing alley-oops to Griffin and Jordan. He cooled off in the fourth but sank a fade-away jumper that broke a 78-78 tie. "He's unbelievable," Griffin said. "It's so tough to guard him just because you don't know what he's going to do. He can hit the jumper, he can get to the rim, he can shoot the floater or pass. That's why he's the best point guard in the league. We needed him tonight in a big way and he stepped up in a big way." Really, they all did. In overtime, Caron Butler made a 19-footer, then fed Jordan for a short jump shot that gave the Clippers a 90-86 lead. The Heat didn't help themselves, going just 1 for 10 in overtime. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade were each 0 for 3. But this wasn't about the Heat. It was about the Clippers, who won a game that let them know they're able to grind away and stay together and grow. A signature win? Maybe not. "Absolutely not," Griffin said. "This is a win for us. We as a team, we come into games expecting to win. We come into every game expecting to win. It's just a win." But a big win.
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