LOS ANGELES – When the Miami Heat paid a visit to the Los Angeles Clippers at the fabulous Staples Center last Thursday morning, it wasn't just a basketball game. It was a conglomeration of stars.
The defending champion Heat came to town with the swagger of their Big Three – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And the terrific trio brought along their friends, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem among others.
The host Clippers, on the other hand, only had a Big Two – Blake Grififn and Chris Paul. But Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro had an army of reserves powerful enough to overthrow a hostile government.
But all the all-star power in the arena couldn't dim the shining moment of three-year guard Eric Bledsoe, who stole the show with a spectacular shotblock that denied the Heat's Wade a breakaway slam dunk.
The highlight happened at the 10:20 mark of the second quarter. With the score knotted at 29, Clippers ace reserve Jamal Crawford turned over the ball, which was quickly swooped by the speeding Wade. With nothing but wide-open spaces between him and the hoop, Wade took a couple of dribbles and took flight, his right hand firmly clasping the ball, ready to hammer down a thunderous slam.
But Bledsoe, who is three inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Wade, wasn't about to give Miami two free points. So the University of Kentucky product slithered beneath the leaping Wade, eluded body contact, and swatted the ball away. The denial stunned Wade, but it further invigorated an already excited full-house crowd of 19,146.
The awe-inspiring defensive gem was good enough to make ESPN's highlight of the night reel.
Bledsoe's brilliance wasn't just isolated in that second quarter play. The high-leaping guard also made an imprint in the fourth quarter, which ultimately helped the Clippers secure an easy 107-100 decision. After James' free throws closed the gap at 85-76 early in the final period, Bledsoe answered with eight straight points, padding L.A.'s lead to 93-76. It was a blow Miami would never recover from as the Heat dropped to 6-3 in the standings.
The author with Clippers' reserve guard Eric Bledsoe
Although Bledsoe was phenomenal, the big stars, those who sell the tickets, didn't disappoint.
Blake Griffin scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and issued six assists while Chris Paul was equally luminescent with 16 points, 10 assists and four steals. Crawford, who is fast gaining notoriety as the league's most explosive sixth man, tallied 22 markers while veteran Caron Butler added another 15 points for Los Angeles.
Slowed down by a sore foot, Wade missed eight of 10 field goals and limped his way to a hushed six points and six assists. But James was his MVP self, churning in 30 points, five rebounds and seven assists in yet another do-everything performance. Chris Bosh finished with a workmanlike 11 points and nine rebounds but he struggled shooting the ball, making just three of 13 shots.
The Clippers' overall record is 6-2, only third overall in the entire NBA. But the Clippers' six wins include impressive victories over the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the recently vanquished Heat.
With the Lakers in shambles, there aren't many memorable nights at Staples Center these days. But thanks to the Clippers, Staples Center was rocking and rolling that night.