You’re not supposed to pull off the type of comeback the Los Angeles Clippers accomplished on Sunday night even if you’re at home, during the regular season.
But, to do it on the road and in the NBA playoffs is simply unfathomable.
Yet, that’s exactly what the fifth-seeded Clippers did to the fourth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, while completing arguably the greatest comeback in league playoff history, as Los Angeles erased a 27-point deficit late in the third quarter and scored 28 of the last 31 points over the final 7:54 to stun Memphis, 99-98, in the opener of the teams’ Western Conference quarterfinal series.
For the first 40 minutes, it looked like it would be anything but the Clippers’ night, as the Grizzlies stormed out to a commanding 32-12 near the end of the opening quarter .
Memphis then maintained a double digit lead and was up 58-39 at halftime before leading by as much as 84-57 with 1:50 left in the third period.
The 21-point margin (85-64) faced by Los Angeles after three quarters tied a league record for the playoff largest deficit overcome by a team entering the fourth quarter, and the Clippers were able to do that without the services of starting forward Caron Butler, who broke his hand early in the third quarter and didn’t return.
A three-pointer by guard O.J. Mayo (17 points) increased the Grizzlies’ lead at an apparently safe margin of 95-71 with 9:12 left in the game, but unthinkably, the Clippers scored 26 of the next 27 points as Memphis went the next 8:43 without a field goal until forward Rudy Gay (team-high 19 points) made a short baseline jumper over star guard Chris Paul (14 points, 11 assists) to give the Grizzlies a very short-lived 98-97 lead with 28 seconds remaining.
Gay’s 19 points were matched by an unlikely source in reserve forward Nick Young, who led Los Angeles in scoring in just 24 minutes off the bench.
Nine of Young’s points came in exactly a minute on a trio of three-pointers, which turned a still comfortable 96-84 Memphis lead into a suddenly precarious 96-93 advantage with 1:47 left.
Paul assisted on each of those treys and on seven baskets overall in the final quarter before he won the game with a pair of free throws with 23.7 seconds remaining.
A forced, well-contested foul-line jumper was missed by Gay with 0.9 seconds remaining, as star forward Blake Griffin (17 points, seven rebounds) simultaneously secured the ball and one of the most monumental single-game meltdowns in NBA history.
The truly ironic thing about the Clippers’ shocking comeback was that Los Angeles stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, losing three of its last four games before the playoffs, to relinquish the four seed and home court advantage in the playoffs to Memphis, which had won its final six games of the regular season.
It remains to be seen whether or not the home court advantage will help the Grizzlies win their postseason series with the Clippers, but so much for that edge in Game 1 at least, even with a 24-point lead at home and only two-thirds of a quarter to go.
Lesson learned for NBA playoff teams and fans alike — don’t stop playing no matter where it is, and refrain from turning off that television or from changing the channel too soon during the NBA playoffs this year, because even when it appears certain that a game is over, it may very well not be.