Just when it appeared as if the Clippers would succumb to the moment, when it appeared as if a controversial late call would doom them, when it appeared as if an injury to Austin Rivers would spell defeat, Blake Griffin came to the rescue.
Griffin rose up and delivered a game-winning three-point basket as time expired Thursday night, lifting a happy group of Clippers to a 104-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in front of a stunned crowd of 18,694 in the Moda Center.
Griffin had been the man for the Clippers in the fourth quarter, scoring 16 of his 25 points and pulling L.A. along with him in the team’s first true road game.
So when Clippers coach Doc Rivers gathered his team in a huddle with 5.1 seconds left and the Clippers down 103-101, Griffin was ready.
“I looked at Doc in the huddle and he said, ‘We’re going to run a pin-down for you.’ I said, ‘For a three!’ He said, ‘No, for a two.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah right,’” Griffin said, laughing. “But I just kind of took what was there. Thankfully it went in.”
The Clippers had every reason to give into the circumstances in the fourth quarter when they had a free-throw opportunity pulled away from them.
Austin Rivers drove hard to the basket and crumbled to the floor as he and the Clippers were told that he had been fouled.
But the referees decided to look at a review of the play with 6.1 seconds left and the Clippers down 102-101.
Clippers head athletic trainer Jasen Powell frantically tried to pull Rivers’ finger back into place. It was “to the side and then on top of my bone,” the guard said. “It was like a staircase kind of.
“I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I tried to clap my hands and I was like, ‘Ah, ah.’ I just started screaming.”
Rivers, who scored 16 points, assumed that he was going to shoot two free throws until the officials overturned the call and gave the ball to Portland.
“Hell, yeah, I wanted to shoot them things,” Rivers said. “You dream of being in those positions. Down one with five seconds left. Look, refs aren’t perfect, just like we aren’t. I’m not going to say anything negative about them. I thought tonight we didn’t get the whistle, but there will be nights that we will and somebody else won’t. ... We just kept our cool and Blake brought it home.”
Griffin was positioned to be a hero because the Trail Blazers’ CJ McCollum made only one of two free throws with 5.9 seconds left, leaving the door open for the Clippers.
“This win is big for our confidence,” Griffin said. “Our first road game, especially in a place like this where the fans are into the game. ...
“We just fought, man. We just stayed in the game. We probably had a chance to feel sorry for ourselves and hang our heads. ... You never know. That’s why we work on those end-of-game situations in practice because you never know what’s going to happen.”