Clippers Pull Off the Unthinkable and Stun Grizzlies with Historic Comeback Win

April 30, 2012

As the Clippers embraced one another and jumped for joy at center court like they had just won the NBA Finals, 20,000 dumbstruck fans, and the millions of people still watching around the world simultaneously asked each other the same question: Did that just happen?

It was a legitimate question. Only a half hour ago, the game was a laugher. It wasn’t even a game anymore, so much as a party, and everyone in Memphis was celebrating.

The Grizzlies led by a score of 95-71 with 8 minutes left in the game. That’s right – they had a 24-point lead.

For Vinny Del Negro and the Clippers, it had come to that point in a blowout when you call it a night and empty your bench for the remainder of the game. They had been beaten badly and it was time to just accept defeat. No sense in leaving your starters out there and risking a pointless injury.

At around the 8-minute mark, Chris Paul approached Del Negro during a timeout, and asked for one more shot at it.

“Give us a chance,” Paul pleaded.

Del Negro obliged. Paul and Blake Griffin were put back into the game.

What happened next was one of the most improbable and implausible comebacks in the history of the NBA, let alone the NBA playoffs.

The Clippers proceeded to go on an epic 28-3 run over the final 8 minutes of the game.

The rally was punctuated by a Chris Paul drive and dish to Reggie Evans, whose lay-in gave the Clippers their first lead of the game with just under one minute remaining. Memphis responded with a Rudy Gay jumper, their first field goal in over eight minutes. LA then regained the lead for good on two free throws by Paul, as Rudy’s Gay subsequent jump shot at the buzzer fell short.

The atmosphere inside Fedex Forum was one of complete and utter shock. How in the world had this happened? The Grizzlies had led by 27 points with 2:38 left in the third quarter.

The comeback spoke volumes to the spirit and resolve of not just Chris Paul, but the Clippers team as a whole. The rally was largely made possible by their reserves, most notably Nick Young and Reggie Evans.

Evans played fantastic defense on critical plays down the stretch, providing an interior presence that had been missing through the first three quarters. As a result, Zach Randolph -- who Evans was matched up with for most of his minutes -- went 3 for 13 from the field.

Meanwhile, Nick Young made three gigantic three-pointers in the final three minutes that transformed the comeback from a mere statement of pride into a reality. His back-to-back three pointers cut the Grizzlies lead down to 3 with just over a minute remaining.

They say basketball is a game of runs. This game was as much a tale of two quarters as it was two runs.

The first quarter belonged to the Grizzlies, who fed off the energy of their raucous crowd to outscore the Clippers 34-16. The Clippers looked flustered and rattled, and unprepared for the hostile playoff atmosphere in Memphis. The Grizzlies were scoring points on pure energy plays, outhustling the Clippers and constantly attacking and moving the basketball.

That was, until the fourth quarter. LA outscored the Grizzlies 35-13 in the fourth, including the aforementioned 28-3 run to end the final 8 minutes.

As fantastic as the Clippers played in the final eight minutes, the Grizzlies’ catastrophic meltdown was even more remarkable. They completely went away from the high-energy basketball that had gotten them such a big lead in the first place, and turned rather complacent with a flurry of long jump shots.

Once the game became a game again, and the Clippers had regained the momentum, the Grizzlies stopped playing to win. They started playing not to lose -- a strategy that spells disaster more often than not.

One can only wonder what was being said in the Grizzlies huddle over the course of those final 8 minutes. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins certainly did not instruct his players to only shoot jumpers down the stretch.

Thus, this game said a lot more about the Grizzlies than it did the Clippers.

In the playoffs, teams must play hard for a full 48 minutes, and the Clippers did just that. Playoff teams can’t lose a 27-point lead, at home. They just can’t.

NBA history tells us that the winner of Game 1 in a playoff series ends up winning that series 78% of the time.

In pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history Sunday night, the Clippers may have done more than make history.

They may have saved their season.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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