There would be no historic comebacks this time. No pleas from Chris Paul to the coaching staff to keep the starters in the game for one last push. No catchy nicknames like the “Miracle in Memphis” that will likely be plastered on knockoff T-Shirts around Staples Center by the time Game 3 rolls around Saturday afternoon.
The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 105-98, to tie their first round series at one game apiece on Tuesday as things returned to relative normalcy on the court. The Clippers came to Memphis and got the split they wanted and the Grizzlies, after a nightmarish fourth quarter where they blew a 24-point lead, left home with what they could salvage.
If history is any indication, Memphis might actually be in control of this series and perhaps even in the driver’s seat to go to the NBA Finals. Yes, you read that right. In the shot-clock era, there have only been four teams to enter the fourth quarter of a playoff game up by at least 18 points and lose. Each of the previous three teams before the Grizzlies joined that dubious club on Sunday (New Jersey in 2002, Dallas in 2011 and Houston in 1994) not only went on to win their series but advanced to the NBA Finals, with Dallas and Houston actually winning the championship.
Perhaps it’s a stretch to think that the Grizzlies’ fourth quarter collapse in Game 1 will somehow spring them all the way to the NBA Finals, but it’s certainly not a stretch now to think their recovery in Game 2 puts them back in position to at least win this series.
Although the Clippers stole homecourt advantage with their win on Sunday, there is still a lingering feeling that they may have caught lightening in a bottle for eight magical minutes at the end of that game. It was a picture-perfect stretch of basketball we might never see again from them or any other team whereas the first 40 minutes of that game was a better indication of some of the mismatches between the Grizzlies and the Clippers in this series.
It seemed both teams did a good job of putting Sunday’s game behind them on Wednesday as the Clippers jumped out to an early seven-point lead and found themselves only down by 4 with 7:55 left in the game instead of 24 as they were 72 hours earlier. The difference this time was Memphis stuck with what got them to the playoffs and made them the team nobody wanted to play in the postseason. They pounded the paint and outscored the Clippers under the glass 46-38 and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to the Clippers’ 4.
The Grizzlies were the aggressors this time around, finishing with an advantage in free throws made and attempted (31-for-39 to 13-for-18), rebounds (37 to 28), second chance points (18 to 6) and fast break points 20 to 6. This was the style of basketball that made Memphis hard to beat in the playoffs last year and made them a trendy dark horse pick by some this year.
As much as the Clippers liked some of their matchups coming into this series, their depth continues to be tested. After losing Caron Butler in Game 1 for 4-6 weeks with a broken left hand, they lost Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe late in Game 2 to injuries although both are expected back for Game 3.
“It gets kind of scary there when you have this guy and that guy getting worked on,” Paul said. “Hopefully everybody will be OK because we don't have anybody left.”
When the Clippers attempted to make another comeback on Wednesday, the Grizzlies stuck with their game plan instead of hastily shooting three-pointers as they did Sunday and suddenly a precarious 4-point lead became a 13-point advantage and the game was over.
“We learned from the last game,” Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay said. “We never got too comfortable, we were composed and no matter what we stayed with our principles and never gave anything up and gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Not only did the Grizzlies win Tuesday, but if history is indication they could be looking at a long run in the playoffs if they advance in this series.