CLIPPER FANS SET PLAYOFF TONE WELL BEFORE TIPOFF

Arena Atmosphere

From the red, white, and blue balloons arching over the main entrance of Staples Center and Chick Hearn Court to the loud music blaring from L.A. Live, it was clear that the postseason had arrived for the Los Angeles Clippers and with it, scores of Clippers’ fans ready to represent “Clipper Nation.”

The Clippers upended the Memphis Grizzlies 112-91 in Saturday night’s series opener in front of a pumped up 19,373 sellout crowd, but the action for the Clippers faithful began hours before the opening tip.

“It’s exciting; there’s nothing like it,” said superstar point guard Chris Paul. “It’s really two different seasons; the regular season and it’s the playoffs. When we ran out for warm ups tonight, it means a lot when the fans are here early. When we run out for warm ups and you see them up and they’re excited.

“We have a different type of crowd here. They have fun and they’re excited all game long and when they see us play hard and the way that we know we can they really are our sixth man and we need them in order to do what we want to do.”

Droves of fans came out to Staples Center more than two hours prior to the scheduled 7:30 p.m. tipoff against the Grizzlies to partake in not just the warm ups, but also the pregame festivities across the street from the arena. Both live music and a D.J. provided the soundtrack for the Clippers’ faithful as they waited in anticipation for the Clippers and Grizzlies to renew their rivalry on the NBA’s biggest stage.

“This is my second time (at a playoff game),” said Louis Bravo, a college student who has supported the Clippers since he was in middle school cheering on the backcourt duo of Cuttino Mobley and Sam Cassell. “I really like it. It’s really nice and they have all the activities for everybody.”

Bravo and his younger sister, Cindy, had their choice of activities to take part in as various booths were set up around the courtyard of L.A. Live by a number of sponsors such as State Farm, Barry’s Tickets and Loan Mart.

A makeshift half-court basketball station was set up to allow fans of all ages and sizes to practice their jumpers while other booths offered free caricatures and a chance to pose for a photo with members of the Clippers Spirit cheer squad.

Another booth offered temporary tattoos to showcase their loyalty to the Clippers, something rookie fan Amy Metzler could not resist as she showed off her “LAC” logo artwork on her back just below the right shoulder.

“I bought my first jersey today,” said Metzler, showing off her Blake Griffin top. “I wasn’t even a basketball fan until this season. I started watching it with my husband. He just had it on and I was reading a book, I was never really into sports. And then I watched Blake Griffin and Chris Paul play together and to me it was like I was watching them dance across the court. I’ve been hooked ever since; I’m totally a basketball fan now which is why this is my first jersey.”

Metzler’s husband, Josh, could not help but smile constantly as he looked at the super-fan he had created.

“I’m just in awe; it’s hard to fathom,” he said.

Once the fans filed into the Staples Center, the enthusiasm continued to build as they were treated to the Clippers now signature pregame lay-up line dunk display. A Willie Green left-handed slam and DeAndre Jordan between-the-legs jam later, and the sea of red in the stands was overflowing with excitement.

The intensity only increased as the starting lineups were introduced. The crowd rained boos down on the Grizzlies starting five, each player seemingly receiving a more hostile reception than the last.

Then the lights went out and Clipper Nation erupted as the Clippers starters were introduced, culminating when Griffin was announced last and the opening tip was imminent.

“It was unbelievable,” Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford said. “[The crowd] set the tone for us, even when we ran out they were lively and they were into it and that’s why we won home court [advantage].”