Second unit leads Clippers into second round
MEMPHIS — After losing Game 6 of the Western Conference first-round series on their home court, the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t seem bothered by going on the road for Game 7 on Sunday.
The Clippers pulled out an 82-72 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies that sent them to the conference semifinals at San Antonio starting Tuesday.
The Clippers’ bench jumpstarted a 16-5 spurt in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to build a 71-61 lead with 7:04 left to play. The double-digit deficit forced the frantic Grizzlies into increasingly terrible shot selection, and they hit just two of 10 field-goal attempts the rest of the way.
By game’s end, the Los Angeles bench outscored the Grizzlies reserves by an astounding 41-11, offsetting Memphis’ starters 61-41 scoring domination of the Clippers’ starters.
“It’s a total team effort, but that’s the way it has been all season,” said veteran Clippers reserve forward Kenyon Martin, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. “We come to do what we do best. We’ve got shooters. We’ve got hard-nosed defenders and rebounders like me. You just do your job.”
The Clippers’ bench certainly did a number against a Memphis team that was on the brink of coming back from a 3-1 deficit. Los Angeles lost Game 6 at home on Friday night, 90-88, to force Game 7 on the Grizzlies’ home court.
“We had so many guys battling through injuries, Chris (Paul), Blake (Griffin), Caron (Butler),” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I’m proud of the guys that stuck together and battled through adversity, but our bench gave us a huge boost.”
And at the biggest time, when Memphis led by a point entering the fourth quarter.
An example of how crucial a role the Clippers’ bench played: Paul, still playing on a tender groin, exited the game for a breather with 16.5 seconds left in the third quarter and Los Angeles ahead by a point. When he re-entered the game with 6:16 left to play, he was pleasantly surprised to see a nine-point Clippers lead.
Paul, who finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists, scored just two points in the fourth quarter on a pair of free throws. Forward Blake Griffin, slowed by a stiff knee from an injury sustained in Game 5, had only eight points and four rebounds. He didn’t score for almost the game’s last 18 minutes, and he played just 1:39 in the final quarter.
However, he wasn’t needed, because the Clippers’ bench scored 25 of the team’s 27 fourth-quarter points.
“The stat sheet don’t lie,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said. “Those (bench) guys had a major impact.”
Almost every game the Clippers won in the series followed the same formula. Bang around the Memphis guards, disrupt the timing of the Grizzlies’ offense and don’t allow the ball to be thrown to post players Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in a timely manner.
“Get it to me when I’m open,” said a miffed Randolph after Sunday’s loss in which he had nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and 12 rebounds. “If I hold up my hand, I’m open. And how about running some plays for the bigs (Gasol and Randolph)?”
It’s no secret that the Grizzlies have been an inside-out team on the offensive end since last year when Randolph was signed and teamed with Gasol. But in Sunday’s loss and in the killer Game 1 loss when the Grizzlies blew a 27-point lead late in the third quarter and lost 99-98, the ball didn’t move inside for the same reason.
Gasol scored 19 points Sunday on 6-of-11 shooting.
“We got back to walking the ball upcourt instead of running upcourt and flowing into our offense before (the Clippers) could set their defense,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “I kept yelling, ‘Get up the court.’”
It just didn’t happen. Most of the Grizzlies’ starters were gassed in the stretch and couldn’t handle the rejuvenated Clippers’ first unit that was handed a double-digit lead by its bench.
“Today, we did all the right things toward the end — boxed out, had fewer turnovers, shared the ball and got stops,” said Clippers guard Nick Young, who scored 13 points and hit two of three 3-pointers.