MEMPHIS–It was so hard to quantify that after Blake Griffin snagged his seventh and final rebound as the buzzer sounded he said he didn’t know what to do.
“I just walked around and hugged like three people,” he said after the game.
The Clippers’ 99-98 come-from-behind victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their opening round series Sunday was stunning, baffling, and historic.
Griffin’s reaction explained it all.
The Clippers trailed by 27 points in the second half, and by 21 points entering the final quarter. They looked out of sorts for much of the first three quarters before the largest comeback win in the playoffs in the last decade. They led just twice, once after a Reggie Evans layup with 50.3 seconds to go and then again for good after Chris Paul converted two free throws at 22.7 seconds to go.
“We felt good going into the fourth quarter,” Evans said. “We started chipping away, chipping away. Then all of a sudden you could feel it. You just kind of could see it in their [the Grizzlies’] eyes. You could feel that heartbeat, it started changing, and we took advantage of that.”
Still, with a one-point lead and Memphis coming out of a timeout, the Clippers needed one last defense stand. The Grizzlies ran a play for Rudy Gay, who had scored on a turnaround jumper over Paul on the Grizzlies’ previous possession. With Kenyon Martin guarding him, Gay drove to his left before pulling up from 15 feet and missing short off the rim with Martin’s hand in his face.
Griffin, who scored 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting, snared the rebound, dribbled once before the buzzer sounded, and high-stepped back to his teammates who flooded the court.
“I’ve been on the other side of one, but never on the comeback side of it,” Martin said. “It’s a great feeling coming in here and getting Game 1 and guys sticking together.”
The comeback looked improbable to say the least, so much so that head coach Vinny Del Negro suggested he was about a minute away from pulling back and regrouping for Game 2.
The Grizzlies raced out to a 34-16 lead in the first quarter and seemingly every time thereafter that the Clippers would close within 11 or 13, Mike Conley or O.J. Mayo would bury a 3-pointer. Conley, who scored 17 points made all five of his 3-pointers and assisted on Mayo’s four.
Overall, the Grizzlies shot 11-of-16 from behind the arc (68.8%) and with 9:13 remaining in the game, Mayo converted from long range to put the Grizzlies up 95-71. They would only score three points the rest of the way.
Evans, who pulled down 13 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench, made a seemingly harmless layup two possessions later.the Clippers, with a lineup of Evans, Griffin, Paul, Nick Young, and Eric Bledsoe, gradually edged their way into Memphis’ lead, the comeback did not hit full stride until Young started knocking down 3-pointers. He made three in a minute, making a 12-point Memphis lead shrink to three.
“I remember coming out at the end of the third quarter and told coach, ‘Let me go back,’” Paul said. “It’s never over, give us a chance, give us a chance. And I think when our energy picked up we got a few stops and Nick Young hit a couple threes and in any situation you’ve always got to believe.”
After Griffin made two free throws, Evans and Gay exchanged makes before Paul made the clinching free throws, capping the team’s 28-3 run to close the game.
Paul finished with 14 points and 11 assists in 38 minutes, while Bledsoe had nine points (seven in the fourth quarter) and Young scored a team-high 19.
“That game was such a blur, I need to watch it to remember it,” Paul said. “[I’ve never been in a comeback] in a game of that magnitude with that much intensity and so much at stake, no way.”
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