MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There was a nice breeze, the stench that is Memphis blown over to Arkansas while down at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken it was Jim Brooks’ 72nd birthday.
The Hollywood writing and directing genius was in town with the Clippers for Game 5 of the playoff series, not realizing at the time that munching on fried pickles was going to be as good as it would get.
Happy birthday, Jim, but as any longtime Clippers fan understands, success as a franchise is a frustrating lifetime pursuit. And almost always ends in failure.
But before we get to Friday’s Game 6 in Staples Center and this group’s chance to defy Clippers history, there are yet more obstacles to overcome.
Instead of gaining momentum from throwing a fourth-quarter scare into Memphis before losing Game 5, 92-80, there are the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the Clippers to consider.
The good news, as if any injury report can offer such a thing, is that Paul suffered an injury to his hip flexor. It was first believed he had hurt his groin, an injury that had forced him to miss extended time at the end of the regular season.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Paul, who has dominated this series. “I just felt a sharp pain. I’ll be all right; I’ll be ready.”
Take a deep breath, Clipper Nation.
“I’m playing Friday,” Paul said. “I tried to go [late in the fourth quarter] but I couldn’t. All that matters is that I’ll be good to go on Friday. There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured.
“We’ll go back home and get our fans [help].”
They might need some of them to suit up.
Griffin will undergo an MRI exam Thursday morning on his injured knee.
How tough is Griffin, who has taken more blows to date than an Ultimate Fighter? He said before the game the Grizzlies were “fighting for their lives.”
I said, “Their lives?”
And he replied, “It’s the Hunger Games.”
At times it seems as if that’s the way this series has been played. The last man standing is the winner.
“We’ll be ready,” coach and dreamer Vinny Del Negro said. “We’ll numb everything up and just go play.”
They are already playing Caron Butler, the pain from his broken left hand, as he says, “having a heart of its own as it continues to throb.
“I feel it when I’m running up and down the court, but it’s the playoffs. And I’m determined to be a pest out there and help where I can.”
They could have all earned some rest with a win in Game 5, but as it happens every so often, Gasol woke up.
In this case it was Marc, who had been missing in these playoffs. But like his brother, Pau, when he decides to play he can take over a game, and he scored a game-high 23 points.
It didn’t help that the Clippers lost their cool, drawing five technical fouls. How might they have reacted had they heard the Memphis radio broadcast suggesting Griffin was faking a knee injury?
“The entire Clippers bench is up and around Griffin,” said one of the local broadcasting yahoos. “Are you serious?”
They likened Griffin’s injury to a soccer flop, but that’s what it has come to around this nasty place.
The local columnist in the morning newspaper began this series boasting about the Grizzlies’ grit and grind, the operative theme here: “Believe.”
When that proved to be a joke, the Clippers grinding out a win after falling behind by 27 points, the morning newspaper begged for fans to make more noise.
This week the morning newspaper was pleading for the Grizzlies to win just one more game. Like pretty please, just one because there is no other source of entertainment around here.
Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins went on TNT to say Paul was a big-time flopper, but then a day later apologized.
Too late, because in addition to the referees taking note, the fans here seem to think there is nothing real to the Clippers’ game. Some of them have taken to holding up “Los Angeles Floppers” posters.
But how does anyone understate the game the Clippers have brought to the playoffs. They don’t have Chauncey Billups, lost Butler for what they thought would be the rest of the season in Game 1, and were considered an overwhelming underdog matched against the Grizzlies.
And yet it’s Memphis who has proved to be shaky, blowing fourth-quarter opportunities to win and almost doing so again in Game 5.
“We didn’t shoot it well enough to win,” Del Negro said, “but how can I not be proud of the way these guys continue to fight back?”
But now Friday’s game is a franchise statement. It might go a long way in determining whether Del Negro returns as head coach, and it also sets the stage for career decisions yet to be made by Paul and Griffin.
As big moments go, is it too big for a franchise that hasn’t known a whole lot of big moments?
“I don’t think it is,” said Del Negro, who took the long-shot Bulls to a seventh game against Boston before losing. “But we haven’t done it yet. So simple: We have to do it.”
Or come back to Memphis, and there’s no way a fried pickle is enough to make that trip worth it.
BY THE way, we never heard a word from the Dodgers, so the game of hide and seek continues.
Or maybe Mark Walter’s partner, Frank McCourt, wouldn’t give him my number. If so, he ought to call Jamie. She’s got my number.