JaMychal Green laid atop a foam roller on the carpet of the Clippers’ locker room Sunday night and tapped out a text message one hour before tipoff.
When he moved from the carpet to a chair in front of his locker, the phone stayed in his hand.
Before jogging down a Staples Center hallway to the arena’s weight room a few minutes later, he checked his messages again, just to be safe.
Sunday night’s matchup against Green’s former team, Memphis, was a reminder of all that has gone right for the 28-year-old forward since the Grizzlies traded him to the Clippers in February. The 6-foot-9 Green holds an important role off the bench for a playoff team with designs on keeping its surprising season rolling in the postseason.
Yet leaving behind a Grizzlies team with one of the NBA’s worst records also meant leaving in Memphis a girlfriend in her final trimester of pregnancy, who, along with their 5-year-old daughter, stayed in Tennessee.
The due date for their son was March 28 but it came and went without any news, and so Green kept his phone close and his ringer loud throughout the weekend as he awaited The Call.
“I’m checking it all the time,” Green said. “Anytime I’m around my phone, gotta make sure she’s all right.”
Green’s waiting game held more suspense than Sunday’s action against his former team. The Clippers barely labored during a 113-96 victory against a Grizzlies team missing seven players to injuries. After scoring the first basket, Memphis never led again. One Grizzlies player, guard Dusty Hannahs, was so anonymous to arena security staffers that some double-checked that the guard on a 10-day contract was in fact on the roster when he took the court for warmups.
Danilo Gallinari scored a game-high 27 points and Green added 15 points and five rebounds. With the Clippers’ 26-point lead down to 11 with 5:02 remaining, Green made a three-pointer in front of Memphis’ bench to provide breathing room.
Green played with much on his mind. In the last six weeks he has navigated a new locker room, playbook and city while calling his family in Memphis three times daily.
“It’s pretty tough but work comes first,” Green said. “I just focus on the game and after the game call my girl to see how she’s feeling. If she gives me a heads up, I’ll be out of here.”
Along the way he has compartmentalized family and basketball. He scored 18 points, his most since joining the Clippers (47-31), during Saturday’s victory against Cleveland and was again hailed by coach Doc Rivers as a player he can turn to with complete trust.
It goes both ways. Green knows that once he alerts Rivers that his newborn is on the way, he can be on the next plane to Tennessee. He plans to spend a day, perhaps two, before returning to the team as it makes its final push for playoff seeding with four games left.
“I just tell them, ‘Let me know,’” Rivers said. “I just want them to be with family. Go.”
Like the Clippers, who moved within percentage points of Utah for fifth in the West, the Grizzlies (31-46) were one of the NBA’s early surprises. They’ve become listless in recent months and the absence of solid veterans such as Green and Garrett Temple, who were traded for Clippers guard Avery Bradley on Feb. 7, hasn’t helped the slide.
“As hard as he plays, as hard as he works, you can’t help but respect him,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Green.
At halftime, with the Clippers leading by 15 and shooting 65% on attempts taken inside the three-point arc, Green checked his phone again, just in case labor had begun. It hadn’t, so he returned for the second half and scored 10 points.
After the final buzzer, he traded small-talk and smiles with former teammates who are on a four-game road trip. If everything goes as planned, Green will return to Memphis before the Grizzlies do, bound as quickly as possible to a hospital where family awaits.
“It’s nothing I can plan for so when it happens, it happens,” he said. “Just waiting on that day.”
Though it lacked much drama, the game was nonetheless emotional for Clippers reserves Lou Williams and Wilson Chandler. Hours before tipoff, the Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle, whom they were close with, was shot and killed outside his Los Angeles clothing store.
The team displayed a tribute on the arena Jumbotron before tipoff.
“It’s just rough. I haven’t even been able to digest it all,” Williams said.