Reserves help deliver benchmark moment for Clippers


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It took less than a minute for the Clippers’ bench to step in and save the team’s season.

In the fourth quarter of his team’s most important game, Coach Vinny Del Negro chose to open exclusively with his second unit.

Just 52 seconds later it paid off as center Kenyon Martin and guard Nick Young made back-to-back jumpers to turn the Clippers’ one-point deficit into a four-point lead. The Memphis Grizzlies immediately took a time out, and while they dawdled back to the huddle, the Clippers flew through the air, chest-bumping each other in the middle of a now-silent arena.

Los Angeles wouldn’t trail again.

“That’s what we do,” a smiling Eric Bledsoe said after the Clippers’ 82-72 victory Sunday afternoon.

By about the midway point of the quarter, the Clippers’ bench had built a 10-point lead that the starters could cruise behind to victory in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series. It was a scary case of déjà vu for the team, after the bench built an eight-point lead Friday in the fourth quarter, only to see it evaporate en route to a devastating home loss.

Players said they learned from their mistakes and did a better job staying composed when the Grizzlies fought back with a heavy dose of center Marc Gasol.

Star guard Chris Paul said he even yelled at his teammates in the huddle: “We’ve been here before and we let it get away.” Afterward, he called the reserve players “unbelievable.”

“Do you know what it’s like to come in the game with an eight-point cushion with the guys we have? That was unreal,” Paul said. “This win goes to them guys.”

“Them guys” included Martin, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Then there was Young with 13 points, Mo Williams with nine and Bledsoe with eight. The Clippers’ reserves scored 41 points — half the team’s total. They accounted for all but two of the Clippers’ 27 fourth-quarter points.

The fifth and final member of the bench, forward Reggie Evans, had nine rebounds. Before Sunday, the Clippers had been outrebounded by the Grizzlies in five straight games. But Sunday, the Clippers outrebounded the Grizzlies, 46-44, with half of the boards coming from the bench.

“We want to make sure we match [the starters’] intensity, even higher than what they bring to the table,” Evans said. “The way we play is kind of how the team plays. We play hard, we scramble.”

The Clippers’ reserves outscored Memphis’ reserves, 41-11, and the Grizzlies acknowledged that that was the difference in Game 7.

“Their bench played good tonight and our bench didn’t play good tonight,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said.

“It was 41-11,” said Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay. “So it’s obvious.”