LOS ANGELES–It’s the kind of lineup where describing it with the word unusual would be a compliment.
Mo Williams, Nick Young, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Eric Bledsoe.
It’s the Clippers’ five-man bench unit. They have no true center, a defensive wizard, a rebounding monster, limited size in the backcourt, two shooters without a conscience and one of the most athletic guards in the league.
On Monday, the band of imperfect parts once again played an integral role in helping the Clippers survive in overtime to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies, 101-97, to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their best of seven-game series.
Evans, who is averaging 8.25 rebounds per game in the series, grabbed eight boards, including four on the offensive end, and had two steals. Williams and Young made big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter with Williams adding two free throws with 7.3 seconds left in overtime to seal it. Martin blocked three shots (two on one possession). And Bledsoe zipped around the court disrupting, well, just about everything.
“We kind of play in scramble mode, try to play less offense and more get some steals, get some transition going, push it,” Evans said. “And every now and then, if we have to set it up, you get Mo [Williams] going or Nick [Young] going and stuff like that. It’s really just kind of shaking things up a little bit.”
The lineup is unique because it’s in drastic contrast to the Clippers starting five, which is manicured by Chris Paul’s generalship and exclaimed by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the frontcourt. The group of reserves is more chaos than order, which is something Evans and Bledsoe both admittedly embrace.
“It’s all about being aggressive, matching their intensity and just outplaying them,” Evans said. “That’s what they do, they play a hustle game. We just have to make sure we’re almost step higher than they are.”
Bledsoe has said on several occasions this season that he welcomes coming in and picking up the intensity and energy level. It was embodied in the second quarter when he out jumped 6-foot-10 Grizzlies center Mareesse Speights for a high-flying rejection in the paint. Griffin scooped the ball up kicked it ahead to Williams who immediately lobbed it back for an alley oop at the front of the rim.
The transition hoops are made easier by the group’s defense. Martin is capable of defending three or four positions and in the series, he’s been tasked with corralling star forward Rudy Gay. On Monday, Gay finished 8-for-25 with 23 points and was visibly frustrated on several occasions. Martin was a large part of Gay’s struggles in the fourth quarter and overtime. At the same time, partnered with Evans up front the duo also contributed to Marc Gasol’s woeful 1-for-4 performance.
“Reggie was big for us again tonight with his effort, rebounding and defense and not stopping on plays, not quitting,” Jordan said. “If we all do that, we can try and end this series in Memphis.”
BUTLER PROVIDES YET ANOTHER BOOST
In his first game playing with a fractured left hand, Caron Butler provided a galvanizing impact to his teammates. However, in Game 4, he appeared more comfortable playing with a contraption of tape and padding on his non-shooting hand. And more importantly, he effectively helped keep the Clippers afloat when the Grizzlies came out on a 10-2 run to start the game.
Butler scored the first eight points for the Clippers and had 11 in the first quarter. His first hoop was a one-dribble jumper along the left baseline, but his highlight of the quarter came on right-handed dunk down the center of the lane.
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said much of Butler’s effectiveness early on was a product of moving without the basketball.
“I know how tough Caron is and how much he wants to battle,” Del Negro said. “I thought he got us off to a great start. I thought he was cutting well, moving well.”
Butler finished with 14 points and a number of deflections on passes intended for Gay. He used his strength to move Gay off the block defensively and battled with big guys like Gasol and Zach Randolph throughout the night, even diving to save a ball near the Grizzlies bench.
“Caron gives us a huge boost. The guy has a broken hand and gives us 14 points. He’s all over the place making plays, but that’s why. He’s Caron Butler, he’s a tough guy.”
GRIFFIN FIRST PLAYER IN SERIES TO 30 POINTS
Griffin amassed his best offensive performance of the series on Monday, taking over the game at times on his way to 30 points and dishing out seven assists, before fouling out with 2:26 left in overtime.
“Blake was very active,” Del Negro said. “I thought his seven assists were huge for us.”
Del Negro added that when Griffin’s passing the way he did on Monday, including finding Young for a key 3-pointer as Griffin stumbled driving across the lane, it is a “good sign.”
Griffin also made 10 of his 17 free throws and finished off and-one play late in the game after putting back an offensive rebound on a missed jumper by Chris Paul.
After the game, Randy Foye said he was impressed by Griffin’s willingness to battle despite playing part of the fourth quarter and overtime with five fouls.
“You have to tip your hat to a guy like Blake because he knew that he had five fouls and was still playing aggressive defensively and trying to not let Zach [Randolph] get the ball,” Foye said.
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