Many NBA finishes thrill with wild swings involving surprising turnovers, big shots, and other moments of drama. The final seconds of Monday night's game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center will not be remembered as anything of the sort, although it will perhaps go down in memory as one of the most poorly played endings of this young NBA season.
Let's set the stage with the game's last real moment of solid execution. Down 86-84 entering the final minute, the Clippers came out of a timeout at the 1:07 mark determined to get a look to allow them to take the lead. That option arrived on a three-pointer for J.J. Redick, who was left open on a defensive breakdown from Memphis. That bucket gave L.A. a narrow one-point lead and appeared to set up a fascinating final 55 seconds between two longtime rivals.
That did not come to pass. The Grizzlies ended the next possession with a missed three from Mike Conley, giving the Clippers the ball back with 31 seconds on the clock. Memphis opted not to foul intentionally, which ended up backfiring considerably when Tony Allen lost Redick off a screen and closed out on the shooter just in time to foul the career 88-percent foul-shooter in the act of a three-point attempt:
There was some question as to whether this call should have been made, because Redick appeared to kick out his leg to make it seem as if Allen hadn't given him room to land. At any rate, Redick made all three freebies to put the Clippers up 90-86 with just 13 seconds left — a major deficit for a team with few three-point threats.
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But the Grizzlies got their own act of good fortune on the next possession when Chris Paul was called for a foul on Matt Barnes as he took at three-pointer. Replays showed a highly dubious call, because Paul only appeared to enact a slight reach-in well before the former Clipper thrust out his limbs as if he had been mercilessly hacked:
Barnes hit all three of his free throws, too, which put the Grizzlies down just one point with eight seconds left. Courtney Lee fouled Jamal Crawford quickly to send the Clippers to the line again, and the veteran guard made both his shots to bring the score to 92-89. The Grizzlies would have had a chance to tie on a three, but Doc Rivers opted to have Blake Griffin foul Marc Gasol as he caught the inbound pass to complicate matters with six ticks on the clock.
Gasol made the first and missed the second, which gave the Clippers an opportunity to make it a two-possession game at the foul line. Crawford went to the stripe again with five seconds remaining, but he split his pair to give the Grizzlies another chance out of their final timeout down just 93-90.
Shockingly, the Grizzlies inbounded the ball to Gasol again despite just having seen that the Clippers did not intend to allow a three-point attempt. Gasol went to the line with 4.7 seconds left, made the first, and rebounded his own miss on the second — a shot he didn't appear to miss intentionally. He was then fouled by Redick in the scrum to go to the line again with a chance to send it to overtime or force the Clippers into converting a game-winner at the other end.
Naturally, he made the first and missed the second for the third time in three seconds. Paul ended up with the rebound and appeared to dribble out the clock, but a replay review — because this neverending comedy of errors obviously required another delay — showed that Allen had fouled him with 0.3 seconds to play. Paul missed the second on purpose to put everyone out of their misery and finish up the Clippers' confounding 94-92 victory.
So, let's recap everything that went wrong in the final 13 seconds.
• 1. Allen fouled Redick on a three-point attempt to turn a one-possession game to two.
• 2. Officials arguably made a mistake on the call.
• 3. Barnes flopped his way into a three free throws at the other end.
• 4. Gasol missed a free throw with six seconds remaining that gave the Clippers a chance to put the game out of reach.
• 5. Crawford split his pair to keep it a one-possession game.
• 6. The Grizzlies inbounded the ball to a non-shooter in a non-shooting position with five seconds remaining when the Clippers had made it clear that they would not allow a three-point attempt.
• 7. Gasol missed another free throw down two points.
• 8. The Clippers failed to rebound that free throw.
• 9. The Clippers committed a foul in the rebounding scrum to send Gasol to the line with a chance to tie.
• 10. Gasol missed a free throw that would have tied the game.
• 11. Referees decided to prolong a horrendous finish with a replay review.
You know, it's possible that I even missed two mistakes. Maybe there was one per second.
This game obviously involved more than 47 minutes that were not so unwatchable that they took on a bizarre fascination. But it's very difficult to discuss anything else that happened given that the final 13 seconds took roughly 47 minutes themselves.
So, instead of reflecting on notable achievements like Zach Randolph's 26 points or Blake Griffin's 24 points and 12 boards, let's just hope that we have stared into this particular basketball abyss for the last time.
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