MEMPHIS-As Kenyon Martin sat at the dais in the bowels of FedEx Forum after the Clippers' 82-72 victory in Game 7 of their series with the Memphis Grizzlies, he seemed to channel his inner Vinny Del Negro.
"It's a total team effort, but that's the way we've been playing all season," Martin said. "Nick [Young] came in late. I joined the team in February, but we come to do what we do best. Nick is a scorer. I look at myself as a hard nose defender, rebounder.
Just doing your job, I think if we do that when we come off the bench it's just great success."
Del Negro has called a number of Clipper wins recently a "total team effort," but never has one felt as much so as this one.
The Clippers, with Blake Griffin still hobbled by a left knee sprain and Caron Butler playing through a fractured left hand, rebounded as a team, defended as a team, and eliminated the pesky Grizzlies as a team, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the second time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.
Their five-man bench lineup, consisting of Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Evans, Nick Young, and Martin, scored 25 of the team's final 27 points. Ten players were on the court for more than 14 minutes and only Chris Paul played more than 30. And ultimately, they became just the 22nd team in league history to win a Game 7 on the road.
Game 1 versus the top-seeded Spurs is Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. PST.
Difference Maker: Kenyon Martin. The veteran big man, who played in his 96th career postseason game Sunday, led arguably the most complete defensive performance of the season for the Clippers. They held Memphis to 32.5% shooting, 0-for-13 from 3-point range, and out-rebounded the Grizzlies 46-44.
Martin defended Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, and Zach Randolph at various times, rejected a late 3-pointer by O.J. Mayo, and, along with Evans, helped ensure the Grizzlies did not control the glass as they had in the previous two games. He also scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double in the series.
Turning Point: In a game that featured 16 lead changes and long stretches where neither team led by more than three points, it was a fourth quarter run by the Clippers' reserve unit that changed everything. They scored 16 of 21 points to open the fourth quarter, turning a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead with 7:04 to go. Martin hit a 23-footer from the top of the key and
Young knocked down a corner 3-pointer off a dish from Bledsoe on L.A.'s first two possessions and Williams capped the run with a wide-open 3-pointer after an offensive rebound by Martin left Memphis scrambling. Williams' shot made it 71-61. The Grizzlies never got closer than six points.
Best Adjustment: Despite having all five starters on the bench, Del Negro resisted the urge to remove any members of the bench unit, nicknamed "The Goon Squad," for 5:44 in the fourth. From that point, Del Negro, who was coaching in a seventh game for the second time in his career, masterfully alternated a backcourt of Paul, Williams, and Bledsoe as well as managed Martin's minutes.
Stat Line of the Day: On an afternoon where four or five individuals from the Clippers could qualify, but in a testament to the Clipper defensive effort the stat line that stands out the most is the Grizzlies side of the box score. They managed more than 18 points in a quarter only once in the game, made 25 field goals, and had just one player (Gasol) who took more than two shots shoot better than 50%.
More Stats: Chris Paul. He looked healthier and bouncier than last game, when he was limited by a strained right groin, scoring two key baskets to close the third quarter. He finished with a team-high 19 points and added nine rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He was also the only starter to score in the fourth quarter, making two free throws in the final minute.
Marc Gasol. While a majority of his teammates struggled, Gasol closed the series playing the same way he had in Games 5 and 6. He finished with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, three blocks, and five rebounds.
Nick Young. The reserve swingman made two of his three 3-pointers and five of his six free throws to lead the bench with 13 points.
Mo Williams. The Clippers leading scorer off the bench in the regular season, buried a number of tough shots, but it was his most wide open, a 3-pointer off a feed from Evans, that helped send the Clippers to San Antonio. He finished with nine points on 4-of-9 from the field.
Hot: The Clipper bench. They shot 50% as a unit (15-for-30), outscored the Grizzlies reserves 41-11, and scored 25 of the final 27 points.
Not: O.J. Mayo. Playing in what could be his final game as a member of the Grizzlies, Mayo misfired throughout the afternoon. The free agent to be finished 1-for-11 from the floor, 2-for-4 from the line, and missed all three of his shots from 3-point range. He contributed four points and seven rebounds, but his cold shooting was costly. Mayo shot 27.4% for the series.
On style of play in Game 7:
Reggie Evans: "We finally played a solid game that we can be happy with. It almost feels better than what we did the first game. It was a grind game, these last two games have been kind of grind games."
On Grizzlies slow start:
Lionel Hollins: "It was Game 7 pressure and jitters. We wanted to do well. We just wanted to let it rip. You walk up there and have two stirs on you in the ninth inning and you have to let it rip. And we didn't."
On winning Game 7 in Memphis:
Randy Foye: "Every time we were here [the previous three games] it seemed like at one point in the game we were down 20. And for us to come in here and play this well, even though it was ugly, that's the way we wanted it to be."
Evans: "To come in here and win again in this hostile environment is a good feeling."
On sitting out for 10:21 in the fourth quarter:
Blake Griffin: "It was partly the way our second unit was playing and when I came back in there was a play where I got caught and couldn't do what I wanted to do physically. But I don't want to dwell on that and my teammates did an unbelievable job and it's a great feeling to get that first series."
On the final few minutes:
Eric Bledsoe: "[I was thinking] we can't lose this lead like what we did when we were at home. We just had to come down and make easy shots. It was big for us."
On losing the series:
Rudy Gay: "It's very frustrating. Everyone was excited to be on a team that was built on last year. I think we did for the most part. It's the playoffs, you have to take advantage of the opportunities, and that first game we were up 27 at one point. We should have converted that game. This series would have been totally different if we would have won that game."
Notes: Prior to the game, the NBA announced it has rescinded Evans' technical foul from the second quarter of Game 6...Memphis led 56-55 heading into the fourth quarter, but Los Angeles seized control of the game with an 11-2 run to start the final period...Memphis finished with just six fastbreak points, marking the fourth game this series the Grizzlies lost when failing to reach double figures in that category...It was Del Negro's first series victory as a head coach. He took the Chicago Bulls to a seventh game in 2009, but lost to Boston. He is 1-1 in Game 7s The Clippers last won a series in 2006, beating Denver in five games.