It may go down as the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history. Down 24 points with 7:55 left in the game, the Clippers clawed their way back for a remarkable 99-98 victory over Memphis.
But as amazing as the Clippers’ comeback was, there was more to the game than just the final eight minutes.
Here are five takeaways from the game and for the series moving forward:
1. This is a resilient team – We already knew this about the Clippers this season. Sunday’s comeback win marked the 15th time this season the Clippers won a game when trailing by 10 or more points, which is most in NBA. This isn’t the first time the Clippers have attempted to stage a comeback against the Grizzlies in Memphis. Earlier this month the Grizzlies were up on the Clippers 81-64 with 6:20 left before the Clippers went on a 19-5 run and were within 86-83 with 55 seconds left before the Grizzlies eventually won. The difference this time was when the Clippers got close Nick Young was there to make three 3-pointers in 60 seconds and Memphis, well, didn’t make a shot. The Clippers now become the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s in our eyes moving forward in these types of games. Whenever they’re down by double-digits late, everyone, including their opponent, is fully aware of their ability to comeback and win.
2. Don’t be fooled by fool’s gold – As remarkable as the Clippers’ comeback win was, the first 40 minutes of the game simply cannot be ignored. There was a reason the Clippers were down 95-71 with 7:55 left in the game. Just as the Clippers can’t hope for another 28-3 run against Memphis in this series, it might also be wishful thinking to assume Nick Young is going to hit three 3-pointers over a one minute stretch during the fourth quarter and finish with a team-high 19 points. The same goes for Reggie Evans suddenly becoming an offensive threat and finishing with 7 points and 13 rebounds and book-ending the Clippers’ comeback with a pair of baskets. Whatever game plan Memphis had against the Clippers was working just fine until the Grizzlies missed 12 straight shots and didn’t record a single field goal for over eight minutes at the end of the game. If you were playing the odds, unless the Clippers change things up, what Memphis did in the first 40 minutes has a better chance of repeating itself than what the Clippers did in the final 8 minutes.
3. Chris Paul is capable of almost anything – Nobody in the league hates losing more than Paul. He will do just about anything it takes to win. Last season, as he single-handedly willed the undermanned New Orleans Hornets to two wins in their first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, he said, “I don’t care if my momma was out on the court. I’d hit her too.” Paul was about ready to hit Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro as he began pulling his starters when the team was down 27 points before Paul pleaded with Del Negro not too. Paul may have been the only person in the building at that time who thought the Clippers could win the game but his confidence soon became contagious. It is just another example of how Paul has completely changed the culture and image of the Clippers since he was traded to Los Angeles in December.
4. So much for playoff inexperience – The number one talking point at Clippers practices and media availability before the start of the series was that three of the Clippers’ five starters had never played in the playoffs before, and how more than half the roster had no idea what it was like to play meaningful games in April. All of those questions are probably thrown out now after the Clippers’ historic comeback win. After making NBA playoff history, the Clippers have about as much playoff experience as they need moving forward. While everyone talks about how experienced Memphis is after beating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round last year, people forget the Grizzlies were in the same position the Clippers are in this year, and that worked out well for them.
5 Replacing Butler and Billups – Just as the Clippers were perhaps finally getting used to life without Chauncey Billups, they will now be without Caron Butler for 4-6 weeks after he fractured his left hand in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Like Billups, Butler brings veteran leadership and is capable of making timely contributions to the offense. And like Billups, Butler will now sit on the bench and play the role of assistant coach during these critical postseason games. In his absence, Del Negro will need to juggle rotations. He likes Young and Mo Williams coming off the bench, so there is a chance he could go with Bobby Simmons as the starter. No matter who ends up starting though, Butler’s absence will mean more minutes for both Young and Williams moving forward.