Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Basketball Matters: Clippers-Grizzlies Game One

So tonight, I had Clippers-Grizzlies on, since it's the only live game at midnight EST, and I Love Hoop.

The Grizz came out with a huge first half, the Clips kept turning the ball over, and it looked for all the world like Lob City was just checking out for Game 2. Memphis led by 27 in the second half, had everything going for them, and it was just another in a series of blah opening games.

I had my hack joke list filed, I was moving on to Other Things. Then the fourth quarter came around, and things changed. Two hours of play went sideways in a way that hardly seemed possible, especially given that this is a playoff series between two franchises that have been, well, arguments for relegation for years.

The Clips kept their starters in. They lost Caron Butler to a hand injury, and Caron Butler has been secretly terrible for a while now. Chris Paul never stopped trying, Reggie Evans gave them outstanding bench effort and defense, and just when you thought that the Clips weren't going to score enough to do more than feel good about What Might Have Been... Well, Nick Young -- Nick Young! The ex-Wizard who spent this entire year making me regret drafting him in my roto league, the guy who redefines Black Hole Shooter more than any other guy in the Association -- caught fire on three straight three balls, and the crowd suddenly had that Oh Dear God No We're Gonna Lose heart in their throat moment.

Blake Griffin, of all people, hit back to back free throws to bring it to one.

Evans erased Zach Randolph as Zebo went for Hero Mode.

Paul made a great drive and dish to Evans, who finished as if he was capable of such things, and the Clips had a 26-to-1 run to take their first lead of the night. Randolph failed to foul Evans, which would be inexplicable if it weren't for the fact that Zebo is Brain Challenged.

Rudy Gay changed that, taking advantage of Paul not getting any help against the bigger man, to take the lead back. Just a classic mid-range post move from a player that's not afraid of The Moment.

Paul worked a foul on Tony Allen, sent to guard Paul in Crunch Time; the guard makes both for the Clippers' second lead of the night, with 23.7 seconds left.

With the arena quiet and dreading, the Clips gave up their last foul before the bonus with 9.8 seconds left. Gay drove, rose, and left it front rim after taking too much time for a rebound or foul, in yet another moment of the Grizz working this game with their brains in a box, and that was that.

The biggest damned comeback you've ever seen, the sense that 18,000 people just watched a theft, or murder, or both. For a fanbase that's probably still seeing Kevin Durant in their nightmares, this is going to leave a fresh new taste of hell.

In the post-game, Paul gave the credit to Evans and Young, sounded angry over how badly they played earlier in the game, busted Craig Sager's chops over dressing like an assclown, and left like the beast that he is. It's hard to see how Memphis recovers from this, and even if they do, it's hard to see how they beat Paul in four games out of six.

Was this one of the best games you've ever seen? No, not hardly; it was a two-way avalanche, one slower than the other. But it tells you just how good Game can be, how it can crop up at any moment, and why I Love Hoop. Hope you caught it.

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