Generally, I only watch Lakers games. Sometimes I sprinkle in a big matchup, or catch a Clippers game, but generally, I only watch Lakers games. My girlfriend has become accustomed to this. Watching 82 games a year is quite a lot, even this shortened season was a lot, as the 66 games were compacted into an every other night type of scheduling. However, when the playoffs roll around, I like to watch every single game. Playoff basketball should not be missed. It is important to see how teams are playing, and it is exciting to watch. Saturday, day one of the playoffs, consisted of hours upon hours of basketball.
Sunday included a trip to Staples Center for the Lakers game one matchup against the Nuggets. When I got home, I arrived on time to catch the Clippers vs the Grizzlies. My girlfriend let out huge sigh and said, "Can we watch something else." The phrase may grammatically require a question mark, but she phrased it more as a demand. I promptly replied, "No, it's the playoffs."
For some couples, this rejection would lead to a fight. However, Shannon understands my love of basketball and she knows that I would have changed the channel if it wasn't the playoffs. Such is our dynamic. Understanding coupled with compromise is important for all relationships.
After watching Memphis ride their crowd for a boisterous 34-16 advantage to begin the game, I wondered if the game was going to be a blow out. It seemed like Memphis hit every shot they took in that first quarter. The crowd was going nuts, possibly providing the loudest cheers we will hear in the playoffs. Memphis was in swagger mode, hitting shots and feeding off the crowd with jubilant celebrations.
However, the Clippers played the Grizzlies even in the second and third quarters. The Clippers were only outscored by 3 points total in those two quarters. The Grizzlies started the fourth quarter up 87-64. The Grizzlies led 95-71 with 8:00 left to play. My girlfriend looked at me and said, "Can we change it now?" This time I considered her request. She phrased it as a question instead of a demand, and I felt she was right. But for some reason I said, "Let's just wait a minute." Well those words saved me from missing out on the biggest comeback in NBA playoff history.
The Clippers ran off an incredible 28-3 run and the rest is history. The Clippers won 99-98 and tied the biggest comeback ever to start a fourth quarter in the shot clock era, as they trailed by 21. The Grizzlies biggest lead was 27 with 2:38 left in the third quarter. From the 8 minute mark on, the Clippers shot 10-13, including 4-4 from deep.
However, holding a comfortable 12 point lead with 2:57 left to play, the Grizzlies were still feeling pretty good about their play. Although they went 0-6, along with 3 turnovers in that five minute stretch, they probably felt pretty confident about holding onto a 12 point lead with just under 3 minutes to play.
Then Nick Young went berserk. Chris Paul attacked from the top near side down to the baseline and under the rim. Paul saw Young use a flare screen from Griffin in order to get open in the far corner, and he promptly kicked it out to him. Young caught the ball and shot the far corner 3 with confidence, as Gay was just a little late on the closeout due to the flare screen. That got the Clippers under double digits for the first time since the opening quarter. Then O.J. Mayo missed a pull up jumper from the far mid wing in order to beat the shot clock. Paul grabbed the board and pushed the ball in transition right down the middle. He attacked to the top of the key and kicked out to Young at the near side 3 as the defense converged on him. Young caught and shot the open 3, swish. That put the deficit at six. Young was hyped, and the Clippers bench began to celebrate.
Following Young's second straight 3, the Memphis home crowd began to cheer their team on, just waiting and hoping for a bucket to go in. Conley tried to fulfill their desire, as he attacked from the top to the near side of the rim. However, Blake Griffin was in perfect position under the rim and he altered Conley's shot, forcing Conley to throw up an ugly lefty heave that missed the entire rim. Paul took the outlet and pushed the floor with a 3-on-2 advantage. Paul attacked from the middle with Griffin on his left preparing to attack the rim, and Young on his right widening out to the near side 3 point line. Once again, Paul got to the top of the key and passed it to Young at almost the same exact spot as his previous shot. Young caught the pass and shot the open 3 in rhythm as Rudy Gay frantically tried to close out on him. Young swished the shot and the crowd groaned in disappointment. Memphis immediately called timeout and the Clippers all began to chest bump and high five each other as they gathered at the bench. Nick Young hit three straight 3's in exactly one minute, making the score 96-93, Grizzlies lead, with 1:47 to play.
During the timeout, the telecast showed many fans in the stadium. Their faces were full of resignation and defeat. No one had positive body language. They were shocked and disappointed at the same time. Frowns were everywhere, people were biting their fingernails, it was a sight to see. After such a raucous opening quarter, where the crowd absolutely bolstered Memphis into dizzying heights of excellence, the complete opposite was occurring late in the fourth. Out of the timeout, Memphis set up a play to try to get a high low look. Conley stood at the far top 3 and swung the ball to Gasol at the near top of the key. Gasol looked to hit Zach Randolph on the near block, but Blake Griffin surprised Gasol with a reach that tapped the ball out of Gasol's hands. Gasol ended up taking a foul to prevent Blake from dunking on the break, and Blake, almost surprisingly, made two clutch free throws to put the Clippers down 1 with 1:30 to play. Blake Griffin's two straight defensive plays are huge steps forward in his young career. Blake's progress as a defensive presence has a long way to go, but those two stops were huge.
The Grizzles then fed Zach Randolph at the far mid block. Randolph famously carried Memphis last postseason with impossible shots that kept falling. Randolph pounded the ball and ended up shooting a one-foot fade away "Dirk shot" from the far baseline. Randolph air balled it, and Tony Allen barely missed the putback. Allen caught the air ball in mid air on the far side and softly bounced the ball off the backboard, only to watch it roll off the far front side of the rim. Chris Paul then ran a high pick and roll from the top with Reggie Evans, and he ended up feeding Evans an easy layup in the lane. The Clippers took their first lead of the game. Memphis then set up Rudy Gay on the far mid block.
With Paul switched onto Gay, Gay easily posted up Paul and shot the turnaround jumper. Gay hit the clutch jumper and gave the Grizzlies the lead once again. Paul then attacked from the top and got to the near elbow. Allen reached and Paul got the call. Allen got a lot of ball on the reach, as he and Paul had their arms tangle, but he also hit Paul on the arm before he almost came up with the steal. Paul sank both of his free throws, putting the Clippers up 99-98 with 23.7 remaining.
The Grizzlies ran a motion set in order to get Gay the ball. Gay caught the ball at the far top at about 40ft away from the basket with 13.8 on the clock. Gay held the ball and attacked to his right, forcing Kenyon Martin to take the foul with 9.8 on the clock. The Grizzlies set up their out of bounds play on the far side to hit Gay at the same spot on the far side about 40ft away. Gay caught the ball and began to size up Kenyon as the crowd anxiously began cheering. Gay attacked to his left, got to the near elbow and made contact with Martin to create some space. Kenyon barely budged and Gay shot the contested fading 16ft jumper from the elbow. The shot came up short on the near side of the rim.
The Clippers all gathered on the court and let their emotions take over. Blake Griffin was especially pumped up, jumping around and full of adrenaline. Craig Sager interviewed Chris Paul on the court and asked him, "Well Chris, this is probably the most amazing comeback in NBA playoff history, you were a part of it, at what point did you think you had a chance to win?" Paul replied, "Man, the whole time man. I can honestly tell you, at the end of the third quarter, coach had took me out and I went nuts. I said, 'Coach give us a chance, just give us a chance.' He put us back in there, Bledsoe got going, uh Nick Young was amazing. Reggie Evans get the game ball though, he was unreal. And then K-Mart had been sitting out all that time, come out and guard their best player and we get a stop."
After playing the Grizzlies even in the second and third quarter, Chris Paul fully believed in his team and their ability to come back. His answer sheds some light on Vinny Del Negro. Paul implied that Vinny may have been ready to concede the defeat. Vinny may have just been resting his main guys for the stretch run, either way, it worked. The Clippers forced the Grizzlies to go 1-11 with 3 turnovers in the final eight minutes. The Clippers also topped the Grizzlies' scorching 34-16 opening quarter by finishing the fourth quarter with a 35-13 advantage.
After Nick Young's barrage of 3's, I looked over at Shannon and said, "This is why I didn't want to change the channel." She had nothing to say. By the time the game was over, she stated, "That was crazy." Yes, it was crazy. The Clippers stole home court advantage and did it in such an improbable and historic manner.
Boy am I glad I didn't listen to my girlfriend.
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