Clippers pull off stunning comeback in opener at Memphis

Ron Higgins, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MEMPHIS -- The Los Angeles Clippers' comeback from a 12-point deficit in the final three minutes of the postseason opener left the Memphis Grizzlies dazed.
Perhaps still reeling from the defeat, forward Marreese Speights said, "It's a long series, we've got seven games left."
Such was the shock over the Clippers' 99-98 win in a Western Conference first-round playoff game in which they trailed by 27 points.
The mathematically challenged Speights appeared to be just as confused as the rest of the Grizzlies, who went from awesome to awful in the game's final quarter. The collapse was complete when Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay missed a 10-foot, fall-away jumper over the outstretched arms of the Clippers' Blake Griffin at the buzzer. The ball bounced off the front rim.
"It's why you don't quit, it's why you keep playing the game," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who remained calm and stoic as he patiently pushed his team back in the right direction after it staggered around for three quarters. "We became more physical, and we got a rhythm. I just told our guys to, 'Keep grinding, this is a series. We'll get our feet under us.'"
Perhaps spurred by point guard Chris Paul's technical foul that resulted in an O.J. Mayo free throw for a 84-57 lead with 2:12 left in the third quarter, the Clippers turned into monsters.
"I was coming out at the end of the third quarter," Paul said, "and I told Coach, 'Let me go back in. I mean, it's never over. Give us a chance. Give us a chance.' When our energy picked up, we got a few stops. In those situations, you have to believe."
For three quarters, the Grizzlies had made the Clippers look silly. Memphis led by 18 at the end of the first, by 19 at halftime and by 21 at the end of the third.
And less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies led 88-64 after a Mo Williams technical foul.
From that point, the Clippers outscored Memphis 35-10. The Grizzlies started walking the ball upcourt offensively like zombies, and the Clippers began flexing their defensive muscle, making Memphis start its offense either near midcourt or too deep on the wings.
"They did a good job of pressuring the ball and making us get away from what we do," said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who attempted just one shot in the second half after going for 14 points and six assists in the first half. "They put pressure on us, we took bad shots and we got our of rhythm."
And the Clippers certainly found the beat.
Paul, playing 38 minutes with a strained groin, had 14 points, but more important, seven of his 11 assists came in the final quarter when the Clippers hit 13 of 17 shots, including five of six 3-point attempts.
Three consecutive 3-pointers -- all from swingman Nick Young, playing for starter Caron Butler, who broke his hand in the third quarter -- put the Grizzlies in jeopardy. Young's trio of deep right corners treys in a one-minute span reduced Memphis' lead from 96-84 with under three minutes left to 96-93 with 1:47 to go.
Gay, who had 19 points, gave the Grizzlies their last lead at 98-97 with 28.4 seconds left on a 10-foot jumper. Paul hit two free throws with 23.7 seconds remaining after being fouled by Tony Allen.
"We got too comfortable," Gay lamented. "We felt we gave this game away. We played great for three quarters and let up in the fourth. We can't let it happen to us again."
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins now has to get his team to shake the stunning loss in time for game two of the best-of-seven series Wednesday night.
"It's the little things that cost you in games like this, and playoff games aren't meant to be blowouts," Hollins said. "Sometimes they are, but when you have two evenly matched teams, you can expect both teams to be in the game at the end. The Clippers got back in the game and made more plays than we did in the end."

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