CLIPPERS CONFIDENT AS GAME 6 LOOMS
Sure. You can believe the season is over.
There has been plenty of evidence in the past three games to think it. Oh, how the act of remembering can be shot-lived.
A week ago the Clippers, riding a nine-game winning streak and a two games to none lead over the Memphis Grizzlies, had seemingly returned to looking like the team that won a franchise-record 17 games in row in the first half of the season. They were the hunters, not the hunted as one reporter stated in Memphis prior to Game 3.
Suddenly, that’s reversed. A week later, the Clippers are left with dozens of clichés to inspire a Game 6 performance that would fly in the face of history and probability. Backs against the wall. Do or die. Win or go home.
Call Friday’s matchup at FedEx Forum whatever you want. And despite the fact that 85.7% of teams that win Game 5 of series tied 2-2 go on to win it, why give up now?
Chris Paul hasn’t.
After Game 5 Paul’s bruised left thumb was wrapped in ice and his All-Star teammate Blake Griffin was hobbled with a right ankle that looked more like a grapefruit than the joint between his leg and foot.
Paul sat at the dais and was asked if he thought the Clippers have a chance in Game 6.
Of course, Paul, the ultimate competitor, would say, “Yes.” But how would that three-letter word sound. Would it resemble the bravado of someone who truly believed? If I’m correct, the Grizzlies have not cornered the market on the word they have pushed for three seasons despite being a 56-win team with three consecutive playoff appearances.
Or would Paul sound something like Lauren Holly telling Jim Carey’s Lloyd Christmas he had a chance to be with her some day?
“I’m in the wrong profession, if I think otherwise,” Paul answered..
Asked again two days later before the team left for rainy Memphis, Paul said, “Very.”
There is no question Paul will do everything in his power to NOT let the Clippers lose. And his teammates will follow suit.
“We’re a confident team,” Matt Barnes told reporters at Friday’s shoot-around. “We’re a deep team. We have a lot of veterans and even though we haven’t played well the three games we know what we’re capable of. We’re looking forward to coming in here and getting a win.”
“Down 3-2, going into a hostile environment, let’s see what you’re made of,” Paul added “It’s what the playoffs are for.”
The Miami Heat did it last season, defeating the Boston Celtics at TD Garden to send the series back to Miami. The Brooklyn Nets did it last night, defeating a depleted Chicago Bulls team to set up a Game 7 in Brooklyn Saturday. And Jamal Crawford’s Atlanta Hawks did it in 2010, coming back from a 3-2 deficit to win in Milwaukee and take the series in Game 7 at home.
Crawford scored 24 points in that Game 6 for Atlanta, an 83-69 win. There’s no reason the guy who scored 20 points or more 29 times off the bench this season can’t repeat something like that.
“We understand our backs are against the wall,” said Crawford, whose Hawks were among the 14.3% to advance. “We feel great. Honestly, being in a pressure situation like this can go one of two ways and I feel like it’s going in a positive direction.”
The circumstances, facing elimination after a home loss that sent the series east, are similar to last season. And the Clippers prevailed in Memphis that time, with Griffin slowed by a hyper-flexed left knee. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro has said it’s a different team and a different year when asked about that 82-72 Game 7 victory.
And he’s right. This Clippers team could be better. It’s easy to forget that they won in Memphis twice this year or that they earned more road victories than any team in franchise history.
For Paul, Game 6 comes down to a choice.
“For us, we hate that it had to get to this point, but it’s either come out, play hard and play effectively or it’s our last game of the season,” Paul said. “I think all the guys on our team are not ready for the season to be over.”
And unless you’ve stopped believing, there is no reason you should be ready for it either.