Shame on you if you turned off the television early last night. (Or the night before, for that matter).
If you did, you missed one of the most epic comebacks in the history of the NBA playoffs. And you also missed a chance to see an example of just why Chris Paul is indeed worthy of MVP consideration (even though it seems like a foregone conclusion that LeBron James is going to get the award.)
The Clippers were down 24 points early in the fourth quarter Sunday night. Twenty-four points! That’s a good halftime total for Philly or Boston the way things have been going.
And what happened from there?
“It was unbelievable,” Blake Griffin said. “”I don’t think I’ve been part of a game like that ever.”
Paul begged coach Vinny Del Negro to put him back into the game, and Los Angeles matched the largest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history by rallying for a 99-98 victory in the eighth and final game of a weekend of playoff openers. Just like on Saturday night, you had to stay up until the very, very end to see the very, very best game.
The Clippers lost Caron Butler to a broken left hand (you’ll have company, Mr. Rose and Mr. Shumpert), and Nick Young stepped in and scored 19 points with three 3-pointers in the midst of the Clippers’ 26-1 run. Paul finished with 14 points while playing a team-high 38 minutes. (Boxscore here).
From Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times: “”Man, they want to talk all that [stuff],” Chris Paul said to his brother, C.J. Paul, on the court after the game. “Now what!” ”That’s going to hurt,” a dejected Memphis fan said. The Clippers were down 27 with 2:38 left in the third, down 24 with 9:13 left, down 18 with 7:21 left and down 12 with 5:08 left. And yet these Clippers who are so new to the playoffs, these Clippers who had Paul playing with a mild left groin strain, these Clippers who lost Caron Butler in the third quarter to a fractured left hand, pulled out a victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and to take away the home-court advantage from Memphis. ”We put a mask on and robbed that one,” said Blake Griffin, who had eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter. The Clippers outscored Memphis 35-13 in the fourth quarter. They ended the game on a 28-3 run. The Clippers shot 76.5% in the fourth, 83.3% (five for six) on three-pointers. They held Memphis to 26.3% shooting (five for 19) in the final 12 minutes. ”I don’t remember what happened right now,” said Paul, who had 14 points and 11 assists. “It’s all a blur. It’s too intense. Man, what a win for us. A big win for us. ”We came to get one. Now it’s time to get greedy.”
The Tribune Company even sprang for a second plane ticket and sent acerbic yet brilliant columnist T.J. Simers to Elvis’ hometown. Money well spent:
From Simers’ column: “A lifetime watching sports, and just wow! The emotional high belongs to the Grizzlies. They send out an 8-year-old girl from St. Jude’s to sing the national anthem, and the noise never stops. There are fireworks, the music louder than anything Lon Rosen tried to introduce to Dodger Stadium, and it looks as if a professional basketball team is taking on well-meaning church league players. This one is over after the first quarter. The Clippers are history by halftime, cooked by the end of the third quarter. And Chris Paul is telling Coach Vinny Del Negro he doesn’t want to come out of the game. The team’s trainer is telling Del Negro that Paul needs a breather, everyone concerned about his groin injury. But Paul wants back in, telling Del Negro, “There’s a chance.” His teammates hear him. As Del Negro will say later, “It’s contagious.” And what happens next is fantastic, and that word still isn’t enough. It’s mind-blowing, shocking, dumbfounding and did I mention shocking? ”We had it all the way,” deadpans Del Negro, like the Dodgers did a few years back getting back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to tie a game and then winning it in extra innings. And I had to rewrite a Page 2 column that night as well, the bums going Cinderella on everyone just in time to beat deadline and be crowned heroes. Standing in the hallway outside the Clippers’ locker room, the players float by on air. There isn’t a sound in an arena filled with more than 18,000 fans looking for a way out. Paul, meanwhile, is walking toward the Clippers’ locker room and shouting, “Heck yes, it’s not over until it’s over.” Absolutely stunning! The Clippers are a Memphis sweep waiting to be completed and then suddenly they are 99-98 winners.”
And to think, up until then the story of the night was going to be Rajon Rondo losing his composure (and his mind?) and earning himself an automatic suspension for Game 2 of the Boston-Atlanta series, which the Hawks lead 1-0 after a surprisingly easy 83-74 home victory. (Boxscore here).
Rondo got a technical foul for arguing that a jump ball should have been called, then intentionally bumped referee Marc Davis to get himself ejected. And there’s no question he’ll be banned from the building for Game 2. Just look at the wording from the NBA rule book, and have a looksee …
From Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “They escaped the first round in 2008 without winning a road game in Philips Arena. But after last night, with homecourt advantage no longer an asset, the Celtics may have to admit they need a new GPS. Last night’s 83-74 loss to the Hawks was rooted in one of their coldest openings of the season, and culminated in a late meltdown by the one player who appeared to be oblivious to the cold. The moment of no return came when Rajon Rondo (20 points, 11 assists) was thrown out of the game with 41 seconds left for complaining and bumping referee Marc Davis after teammate Brandon Bass was called for a foul during a fight for a loose ball. The Celtics, trailing 78-74 at the time, fell seven points behind when Joe Johnson hit a free throw and Josh Smith followed with two more. The free throws capped one of the most impressive postseason performances of Smith’s career — a 22-point, 18-rebound classic that was immune to coverage from Kevin Garnett. And now the Celtics are forced to revisit this season’s most numbing theme: the prospect of playing yet again without one of their stars. Rondo was suspended for two games after throwing the ball at a referee during a Feb. 19 game at Detroit, and the Celtics lost both games without him (in Dallas and Oklahoma City) to fall two games below .500. But that was also during the Celtics’ worst stretch of the season. The Celtics have since come back as one of the most resilient teams in the NBA. They’ll need that quality tomorrow night.”
There were two other games utterly devoid of drama, so we’ll stick to the basics:
- For the first time in four years, the San Antonio Spurs won a series opener. In his best playoff game since 2009, Tony Parker scored 28 points and the top-seeded Spurs erased four years of putting themselves in 0-1 deficits, defeating Utah 106-91. It marked the 11th straight win for the Spurs dating to the regular season, when they also had a pair of 11-game win streaks. Back then, coach Gregg Popovich was willing to sacrifice games to rest his older players. Now? Don’t bet on it in Game 2 Wednesday night. Paul Millsap led Utah with 20 points, but the Jazz couldn’t keep up when the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team made three treys in a two-minute burst to finish the third. Here is the boxscore.
- Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, Andrew Bynum posted the Lakers’ first playoff triple-double in 21 years, and Los Angeles completely controlled their 103-88 victory over Denver in Game 1. Bynum had 10 blocks to tie the record held by Mark Eaton (Utah) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston), getting the record-tying block against Timofey Mozgov with 3:02 to play. He also had 10 points and 13 rebounds. ”It’s the only way really possible for me to get a triple-double — through blocked shots,” Bynum said of his first career triple-double. “If I play good D, we’ll win games. I think I’m just going to be as aggressively as I can defensively to contest their shots. … You’ve got to win Game 1. Statistics are against the teams that lose Game 1, especially on the home court.” Here is the boxscore.