Specter of Spurs curbs Clippers’ celebration


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Clippers’ Game 7 celebration started in bits and pieces on the court Sunday as the clock wound closer and closer to zero.

Chris Paul barked “Let’s go! We goin’ finish it!” with 30.2 seconds left in the game.

Caron Butler screamed “Yes, yes, yes!” as the final ticks ticked away.

And when it was finally over, Mo Williams walked by the scorer’s table, muttering “Big win right here, man,” immensely pleased that the Clippers had won their first Game 7 in franchise history.

“This was one of the best series this year by far, hands down,” center Reggie Evans said afterward.

It was a good thing players got to the celebrating early, because there was little time for that after Sunday’s 82-72 playoff victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. A date with the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs looms Tuesday night.

“Different type of team, different type of series,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said after the Clippers’ dramatic upset. “San Antonio has played as well, if not the most consistently, of anybody throughout the year. They’ve won championships for a reason. They’re not going to beat themselves.”

But they are favored to beat the Clippers.

San Antonio took two of three from Los Angeles during the regular season, including a three-point overtime victory in February. The Clippers nabbed the most recent matchup, beating the Spurs by 12 on a night the team did not have guard Tony Parker.

Among the Spurs’ many advantages: a week of rest, and home court. Considering that the Clippers just stole two wins in Memphis, Del Negro was not so concerned about the latter.

“We’ve been a pretty good road team,” he said. “Our demeanor is pretty good in terms of handling situations.”

Players said Sunday that they sense growth, even after just one playoff series. Guard Randy Foye said the team learned from its mistakes in a Game 6 loss at home and did a better job staying composed when Memphis made a late charge in Game 7. Veteran center Kenyon Martin said that with each game, this young team is learning.

“The thing about Game 7 of a series, if you didn’t learn anything from Game 1, then you don’t deserve to be here in the first place,” Martin said. “I think guys really, really embrace the moment.”

Del Negro called the Spurs “deep and experienced,” and players said they anticipate a more mental, potentially less physical battle against their coach’s former team.

But win or lose in Texas, Del Negro said the season has been “a huge turning point for the franchise.”

“There’s a direction now to go,” he said.

And that direction, at least for now, is southwest.