MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Reggie Evans “changed the game,” Chris Paul said Sunday night after the Clippers’ improbable, come-from-27-points-behind victory over Memphis.
It was the Clippers’ bench, with Evans, Nick Young, Eric Bledsoe and Kenyon Martin “stepping up,” Paul said at practice Monday about the Clippers’ victory over the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series.
“The bench was amazing,” Paul said about his teammates who did a lot of the heavy lifting in the victory that gave the Clippers the confidence they seemed to be lacking early in the contest.
As a reserve unit, Clippers substitutes Young (a team-high 19 points), Evans (a game-high 13 rebounds), Bledsoe (nine points on four-for-eight shooting), Martin and Mo Williams combined for 49 of the team’s 99 points and 24 of the 47 rebounds.
“They always come in when we seem to not be playing well and give us a lift,” Blake Griffin said. “Eric Bledsoe, Mo, Reggie, Bobby [Simmons], Kenyon, all those guys. One or two or three of those guys always finds a way to get something done.”
With Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday night in Memphis, the Clippers’ bench may have even more responsibilities.
Caron Butler suffered a fractured left hand during the third quarter of Sunday’s game and is expected to be sidelined for four to six weeks, so the Clippers will have to start one of their reserves in his place at small forward.
Coach Vinny Del Negro hadn’t made a decision Monday on who would start. Del Negro said he might start Simmons, a 10-year veteran, because his 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame gives the Clippers more size and strength to deal with Memphis’ 6-8 forward Rudy Gay and that allows Young to keep coming off the bench to provide a scoring punch.
“I have a lot of confidence in the guys,” Butler said. “But I just hope the guys keep it going to give me some time. I look forward to playing in the next series. And it’s not my shooting hand [that is fractured]. That’s something to think about.”
After Butler got an X-ray he returned to the bench in Game 1 to support his teammates. He saw Young score nine points in the fourth quarter, making three consecutive three-point baskets.
He also saw Evans pull down eight rebounds and score twice — his layup gave the Clippers a 97-96 lead with 50.3 seconds left. Evans also played aggressive defense on center Marc Gasol and forward Zach Randolph in the fourth quarter.
Then Martin returned to the game with 23.7 seconds left, with the Clippers clinging to a one-point lead. Martin played tight defense on Gay, forcing him to miss a 15-foot shot at the buzzer.
“We just give … a lot of defense,” Evans said about the reserves. “It sounds funny, but the better you play defense and you go in transition, the less offense you’ve got to run.
“And then if we do have to run an offense, we kind of let Nick do his thing, let Mo do his thing and me kind of clean up the boards. We let Eric Bledsoe play his style of transition offense. He’s like a stick shift … all of a sudden he goes slow and then goes fast. But really our job is to go harder than the opponent — outplay them, outwork them and that’s basically it.”