MEMPHIS, Tenn. — They piled onto the court after it was all over, every Clipper looking for a teammate to hug, to rejoice with, to explain to the other the unexplainable, a historic 27-point comeback against a Memphis Grizzlies team that had its swagger snatched away.
In a game that defied all logic, the Clippers amazingly defeated the Grizzlies, 99-98, Sunday night at the FedEx Forum in one of the greatest comebacks in NBA postseason history.
That was the biggest playoff comeback in the last 10 years, according to Clippers’ officials.
“Man, they want to talk all that [stuff],” Chris Paul said to his brother, C.J. Paul, on the court after the game. “Now what!”
“That’s going to hurt,” a dejected Memphis fan said.
The Clippers were down 27 with 2:38 left in the third, down 24 with 9:13 left, down 18 with 7:21 left and down 12 with 5:08 left.
And yet these Clippers who are so new to the playoffs, these Clippers who had Paul playing with a mild left groin strain, these Clippers who lost Caron Butler in the third quarter to a fractured left hand, pulled out a victory to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and to take away the home-court advantage from Memphis.
“We put a mask on and robbed that one,” said Blake Griffin, who had eight of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.
The Clippers outscored Memphis 35-13 in the fourth quarter. They ended the game on a 28-3 run.
The Clippers shot 76.5% in the fourth, 83.3% (five for six) on three-pointers. They held Memphis to 26.3% shooting (five for 19) in the final 12 minutes.
“I don’t remember what happened right now,” said Paul, who had 14 points and 11 assists. “It’s all a blur. It’s too intense. Man, what a win for us. A big win for us.
“We came to get one. Now it’s time to get greedy.”
Nick Young (19 points) and Reggie Evans (seven points, 13 rebounds) played big roles for the Clippers.
“Man, I’m a veteran and I want to win a championship and when you want to win a championship, the game don’t stop until the clocks ends,” Evans said. “You think about games with the New York Knicks and Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers and how they came back and surprised the world. So we just kind of put that swagger back in the game and just bumped and grinded.”
Young had back-to-back-to-back three-pointers, helping Clippers get to within 96-93 with 1:47 left after trailing by 82-55 in the third quarter.
After a Memphis timeout, Marc Gasol turned the ball over.
Griffin was fouled, and made both free throws, pulling the Clippers to within 96-95 with 1:30 left.
After the Grizzlies missed two shots, Paul found Evans inside for a layup for a 97-96 lead with 50.3 seconds left, the Clippers’ first lead of the game.
Rudy Gay scored on a short jumper after Paul switched off on him, giving Memphis a 98-97 lead with 28.4 seconds left.
Paul was fouled by Tony Allen and made two free throws for a 99-98 Clippers lead with 23.7 seconds left.
Then Kenyon Martin forced Gay into missing a shot as time expired, and the comeback was complete.
Chauncey Billups, a 14-year veteran who has won an NBA title, was shocked at what he witnessed.
“I was sitting there thinking like, ‘I’m glad this is happening. Now we see how hard we’ve got to play,’” said Billups, who is out with torn left Achilles’ tendon. “But I’m not thinking we’re going to win the game. I’m thinking like this is good to see. We’re cutting into the lead. [The Grizzlies have] become a little passive. This is good to show for the next game. I’m not thinking we’re going to win this game. I’ve never seen anything like that before. That was impressive.”