OKLAHOMA CITY – Something told me not to turn away, not to go to sleep on the final game of wild and crazy opening weekend of the NBA playoffs.
Even when the Grizzlies lead reached 27 points and the crowd was losing its collective mind at the sight of the home team roasting the Los Angeles Clippers, my basketball conscience wouldn’t let me turn the channel.
For the longest time it was like watching one of those Animal Planet specials where the water buffalo are trying to cross the river and the crocodiles keep snatching them and dragging them under water. You want to stop watching … but you can’t.
But this time, the water buffalo turned the tables at the end.
I’ll never go to sleep early on these games again. Not after what the Clippers did last night, staging an epic comeback and finishing the game on a 28-3 run, sparked by a Reggie Evans layup with 7:54 to play, to shock Memphis and the Grizzlies with a 99-98 Game 1 win.
I’d have never believed it if I hadn’t watched it for myself. And it’s always fun witnessing history, even if it comes at the expense of our beloved Hang Time Grizzlies.
Speaking of history, the Clippers had some on their side this season. Fifteen times they won games after trailing by 10 or more points, per Elias Sports. But down 27 in the Grind House … when the Grizzlies had it working in ever way imaginable, including my main man Zach Randolph doing push ups … and with Chris Paul struggling with that groin injury … Caron Butler in a suit after breaking his hand … and Blake Griffin just struggling in his playoff debut … there was no way this was happening.
Oh, but it did.
Paul came through as he almost always does at winning time, dishing out seven assists in the fourth quarter alone. Nick Young nailed those three monster 3-pointers Reggie Miller-style (all in one minute) and the Clippers flipped the script in the toughness department, out-rebounding the Grizzlies 16-4.
When Kenyon Martin stuck that hand in Rudy Gay‘s face to bother that last shot, there were no miracles left in the building. The Grizzlies’ nine-minute scoring drought was just as startling as the comeback.
And to think, you went to sleep on the the whole thing. Just as improbable as the comeback were the unlikely folks who fueled it, as ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz explains:
Somehow, Evans made the bookend buckets during that 26-1 run — a layup that started it, then another after he caught a pass on the move from Paul on a pick-and-roll. If Evans has ever finished a play so artfully before — much less one at such a crucial juncture — please send over the tape.
“We just chipped away, chipped away,” Evans said. “Then all of a sudden you could just feel it. You could see it in [the Grizzlies’] eyes. You could feel that heartbeat. It started changing, and we took advantage.”
Then there’s the case of Nick Young, whom the Clippers acquired at the trade deadline. Young didn’t shoot 50 percent in a game until his 17th game as a Clipper. But in a span of one minute on Sunday night, Young drained three 3-pointers to shave a 12-point Memphis lead down to only three.
When asked to comment on the explosion, the kid they call Swaggy P credited his performance to his silk-backed denim shirt, a sartorial monstrosity that his teammates allowed him to show off only because of his heroics. After a full 360-degree turn at his locker for full effect, Young spoke about the trio of shots, all assisted by crafty feeds from Paul.
“I’m learning how to play with each guy and pick my spots and I’m starting get my groove,” Young said. “Chris is dangerous. If somebody is going to step up to help on him, he’s going to drive. And I was wide open.”
The toughest math for the Clippers to endure this season has been Griffin’s foul-shooting woes. Griffin shot only 52 percent from the line this season, but the Clippers desperately needed him to drain a pair with 1:30 remaining and still trailing by three.
” I remember standing right behind [Griffin] and saying, ‘Give us these two,'” Paul said.
Again, the Clippers beat the odds. Although Griffin isn’t much better than a 50-50 proposition at the line, he sank both.
“We were down one and [Griffin] has given us a chance,” Paul said.
Paul capped the night with a wildly entertaining postgame interview (below) with TNT’s Craig “Easter Passed” Sager.
It was the perfect ending to a fantastically dramatic opening weekend, that included highs (Kevin Durant‘s game winner here Saturday night), lows (ACL injuries to Derrick Rose in Chicago and Iman Shumpert in Miami), a brain freeze moment (for Rajon Rondo in Atlanta) and a comeback for the ages in Memphis.
If you blink, you might miss a season-defining moment for some player or some team. Get some rest another time.
And remember, don’t go to sleep on the Clippers ever again!