I don’t think too many people expected the Clippers to be in the Western Conference Semi Finals. Not when Chauncey Billups went down. They do have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but the bench, role players and defense weren’t supposed to be enough for a playoff series win; not against everyone’s favorite dark horse, the Memphis Grizzlies.
Well, it did. A game 7, in Memphis, and the Clippers won with defense, bench, defense and Chris Paul. Something from the original plan has to work, right? Paul has been tremendous all season, and that didn’t stop in the series, averaging 20.4 points per game with 7.1 assists. He finished with 19 points and 9 rebounds in game 7 against the Grizzlies, forgetting the fact that point guards are supposed to feed others. Great players do what their team needs them to. Paul needed to score. Especially with Blake Griffin going through a terrible night – 8 points, 4 rebounds, 3-11 from the field.
This was about the bench stepping up. That bench that was too short for everyone all season. Well, suddenly, the names of Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams, Nick Young and even Reggie Evans, the secret non-scoring weapon of the Clippers in the off season, don’t sound that bad. It’s not the depth of the San Antonio Spurs, but it got them through the team no one wanted to meet.
The bench and the defense. With the best defenders on the Clippers’ bench. Kenyon Martin scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Reggie Evans didn’t take a single shot during his 19 minutes on the court; he grabbed nine rebounds and just gave what he usually gives. Heart, sweat, defense and that extra dirty something that made him unlikable to his peers.
On the other end, the two men who were supposed to bring points off the bench didn’t come through – O.J. Mayo opened strong but averaged just 5 points per game in the last five games of the series. The Grizzlies bench scored only 12 points in their final attempt to live up to the expectations they began building in last season’s series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Instead, the Clippers won their first ever game 7 and for only the third time in franchise history, actually made it through a playoff series. People knew good times were coming when Blake Griffin showed up. The Chris Paul trade was another great signal of things to come. But the Clippers weren’t supposed to make it through this series.
But that’s NBA basketball for you. Sports in general. Suddenly, a terrible free throw team makes 78% on their biggest game of the season. A below average regular season defense holds an explosive offense on 72 points, in Memphis, shooting 32.5% from the field. No set moves, no actual written plays or anything that resembles and organized offense. Just a lot of hustle and Chris Paul improvising to get point on the board. Apparently, that’s enough these days.
Can it be enough against the Spurs? Initial reaction is no. The Spurs won the regular season series 2-1, but that’s not the reason. The Spurs didn’t end up with the top spot in the West just because they look good. This team is deep and has endless ways of scoring on teams with ‘European-like’ basketball. The Clippers’ lack of anything methodical should doom them against the better-coached Spurs. Should. But we’ve heard it before about the Clippers. Chris Paul isn’t done with the playoffs just yet. He can’t win it on his own but it seems he won’t have to, Blake Griffin or no Blake Griffin.