Originally posted on NBA 24/7 365  |  Last updated 5/6/12

Clippers 87, Grizzlies 86: For a game that featured 34 turnovers, a pair of 15-point quarters, 26 missed free throws, and 53 personal fouls, this was an exceptionally exciting battle, wasn’t it?  We’ve had to suffer through more than a few games this postseason where it’s seemed as if the team that made the fewest bad plays would end up the winner, but, despite the final score and the ugly statistics, this one wasn’t like that.

First of all, the atmosphere was great.  I’ve watched a chubby kid with a bowl cut get buck at a Grizzlies game, and I’ve seen the Thunder win two thrillers in front of their home crowd, but I don’t think the fans at any other venue have been as noticeably excited as the folks at Staples.  It makes sense–no other fan base has had to endure such longstanding futility–but it still caught me off guard.  Passionate fans have never been associated with the Staples Center, except for Clipper Darryl.  Said Blake Griffin: “It was unbelievable. The fans were on their feet and with the energy through our warm-ups, we had no choice but to play hard.”

To quote Rasheed Wallace, both teams went on to play exceptionally hard.  It was a physical contest from the moment Zach Randolph picked up a loose ball foul, drawn by Blake Griffin, just 15 seconds after tip.  Randolph responded with a pair of jumpers, but Griffin answered back with LA’s first six.  Griffin would soon pick up a technical foul as he swatted Randolph’s arm off of his hip.  Neither of the two made a whole lot of noise from that point on (both players scored 8 of their 17 in the first), but they had certainly set the tone.  From that point on a foul probably could’ve been called on every possession.  I thought the officials did an alright job with a difficult task, but they did whistle some random, ticky-tack stuff that seemed insignificant or incidental considering the type of game it was.

The Clippers made the first big run of the game when their bench unit rattled off 13 quick points to start the second quarter.  Memphis got nothing inside during the 13-1 run, missing one layup, two jumpers, and turning the ball over three times.  However, LA’s bench cooled off just as suddenly as it had heated up.  The Grizzlies, down 36-23, were able to knot the game at 36 as the Clipps went scoreless for over three minutes.  Memphis came up with 3 of their 10 steals during that stretch and converted each one of them into 2 points.  It was at this point that Blake Griffin and company really could’ve helped their cause by making a few free throws.  They clunked six in the second quarter alone.  Chris Paul was able to connect on a couple to give his team the lead with two ticks to go until halftime, and then Blake Griffin made a momentous play when he stole a terrible inbound pass and beat the buzzer with a slam dunk…

The play had the feel of a game changer, but the Grizzlies put it behind them and bounced back with a 25-14 third quarter.  As they sometimes do, things got pretty ugly for the Clippers, who missed 4 of 6 FTs and turned the ball over 4 times.  One would think they would’ve been more protective of the ball against the team that led the league in steals, but multiple times they put it in a place where a defender was able to simply rip it right out of their hands.  Credit the Grizzlies for being so aggressive, and knocking down 9 of their 11 free throws.

By the end of the third the Clipps trailed by 20 points less than they had once been down in game one, but it still felt as if things had gotten a little out of hand what with the giveaways and missed free throws.  If I know anything about the Clippers, though, it’s that they can never be counted out.  That’s why I picked them to win this series in seven.  Basically, it’s Chris Paul.

Paul opened the fourth with a three-pointer, but he was actually pretty quiet until the last couple minutes.  As they did in the comeback game, the Grizzlies struggled to score, though.  They connected on just one shot between the start of the fourth and the 13-second mark.  Guys like Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin (and unsung hero Randy Foye!) were able to prove enough offense to have the game tied at 80 with about three minutes remaining.  Chris Paul took the reigns from there, first maneuvering into the paint for a short jumper, then finding Blake Griffin for an easy slam dunk.  The mini run put the Clipps up four with 1:23 to go.  The teams swapped misses and it became a free-throw shooting contest, which, not surprisingly, almost spoiled the Clippers first home playoff game since 2006.  Over the final 15 seconds, a stretch during which Rudy Gay nailed two ridiculous threes, Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Evans went a combined 1-6 from the stripe.  For the second time in seven days, Gay would end up with a chance to win a game for Memphis.  If not for a big-time (if not risky) contest by Randy Foye, he just may have come through this time.

There are two arguments which can be made at this point.  If you’re a Grizzlies fan, you’re saying the Clippers are insanely lucky to be up 2-1.  If you’re a Clippers fan, you’re saying the Grizzlies must be at least a little bit rattled right now.  We know the team’s motto, “grit and grind,” but I’m not sure that all the world’s sandpaper could provide enough grit to erase the devastation of two come-from-ahead losses.  Including the game they won, Memphis has now been outscored 87-58 in fourth quarters.  Looks like a problem to me.

The Grizzlies now face a virtual must-win situation in Monday’s game four.  There’s a huge difference between going home for a pivotal game five tied at two and going home for a potentially series-ending game five down 1-3.  As a fan of NBA basketball… man, you almost have to hope the Grizzlies win tomorrow.  I mean, I’m rooting for the Clippers, but it would be a shame to see this outstanding first-round series conclude in any fewer than seven games.  There is no other series shaping up to be nearly as compelling as this one has already been, and the I feel like the basketball gods, who have been rather cruel lately, owe us four more games of Clippers/Grizzlies.

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