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GAME 6 NOTEBOOK: ALL ABOUT THE BENCH
Eric Patten (@ericpatten) | 5/11/12

LOS ANGELES–The Clippers were starving for energy.

Memphis had carved out a nine-point lead in the first quarter and with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul hobbled things could very well have unraveled Friday at Staples Center.

Enter Eric Bledsoe, the springy, second-year point guard with a knack for unleashing chaos.

He checked in with 1:59 left in the quarter and in 14 first-half minutes notched six points, four rebounds, including soaring in for a put back tip on a missed jumper by Blake Griffin, three assists, a steal, and a countless number of tipped passes and general turmoil for Memphis’ offense.

Bledsoe shifted the game from what starting shooting guard Randy Foye called “sluggish” to hyper speed.

Almost instantly he took an outlet pass from Reggie Evans, raced the opposite way, crashed into Mareesse Speights, and simultaneously dished to Kenyon Martin for a baseline dunk.

“I’ve been doing that all year [picking up the tempo], so I’m just going to continue doing it,” Bledsoe said. “When I’m in, I’m getting to the hole, penetrating, getting my teammates open.”

The momentum shift, courtesy of Bledsoe, Martin, and Evans continued into the second quarter. With the young guard, zipping around the perimeter on defense and setting up teammates by getting around Mike Conley and into the Memphis paint.

On consecutive plays he slapped the ball off Zach Randolph’s shin on a double team and stripped Tony Allen on a layup attempt, forcing another Memphis turnover.

“Eric is really explosive. He’s fast, he’s strong, and he plays really hard on both ends of the floor,” Foye said. “The pressure on the ball, the way he rebounds, just his all around effort today was big. I think he did a great job getting into the paint, making Gasol step up, and then allowing Reggie to clean up on the glass.”

Bledsoe finished with a personal series-high 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting, four rebounds, six assists (one turnover), and one steal. It was his best all-around game of the series, and despite the two-point loss, could provide the kind of confidence boost needed heading into Memphis for a decisive Game 7. It also helps that he’s done it before, scoring 12 points combined in the fourth quarter of the three Clippers’ wins in the series and adding nine points, a defensive presence on Conley, and a key save in their come-from-behind victory in Game 1.

“I thought Eric played great,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought Reggie gave us a great effort, as well as Kenyon.”

FRONT-COURT DYNAMIC

In addition to Bledsoe, the Clippers relied heavily on Evans and Martin off the bench.

And just like their young point guard, the two veteran tough guys provided an early jolt of energy to a somewhat low-key effort early on.

Martin played to the crowd, waving his arms and roaring at fans behind the basket after tying up Allen for a jump ball in the fourth quarter. As for Evans, it would suffice to call him one of the most influential men on the court.

It seems when in the game this series, Evans, who sustained a large welt under his right eye for all of his trouble, becomes a focal point. He grabbed 10 rebounds in just over 24 minutes, caused mischief, blocked three shots, and even added six points, which is merely a bonus for the big man, who admittedly doesn’t look to score.

Martin knocked down his first four shots, including a jumper from the top of the key and a tip in on a miss by Bledsoe. He finished with 10 points and also helped hold Rudy Gay to 5-for-14 shooting.

When at its finest, with Bledsoe’s dynamism, Evans’ rebounding, and Martin’s versatility and occasional scoring punch, the Clippers bench has potential to be a shut-down defensive unit. Foye said the group carried the team, and Chris Paul said they played “outstanding.”

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