The Clippers’ bench makes its points in many ways beyond the scoring column.
Ronny Turiaf violently swats what looks like a sure layup, forcing a jump ball.
Matt Barnes sticks out his hand to deflect a pass, leading to a shot-clock violation.
Jamal Crawford corrals a bad pass, resulting in a breakaway layup.
All of these things happened Monday night at Staples Center, the Clippers’ reserves as determined as the woman in red who kept chugging toward the cooler with a shovel full of dollar bills after her allotted time was up in the “Dash for Cash” promotion.
Sure, it took a massive bailout from Chris Paul in the final minutes for the Clippers to pull out a 93-91 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 2 of their Western Conference first-round series, Paul’s off-balance bank shot with 0.1 of a second left providing the final breathless push.
But the Clippers never would have been in position to take a 2-0 lead in a first-round playoff series that is looking like it’s all theirs without the sacrifice of second-stringers known as “A Tribe Called Bench.”
The Clippers’ reserves didn’t just outplay their counterparts, they also largely outclassed the Grizzlies’ starters.
“Yeah, that happens sometimes,” Barnes said.
There was Lamar Odom, taking a charge on Mike Conley midway through the fourth quarter. There was Barnes, rejecting a shot by Zach Randolph. And on it went.
A lineup of Turiaf, Barnes, Crawford, Odom and Eric Bledsoe quickly turned a four-point lead into a 12-point cushion early in the fourth quarter.
Bledsoe dribbled between two defenders for a layup. Odom grabbed a rebound and threw an outlet pass to Barnes, who was fouled on a layup and made both free throws. Odom then rejected a shot by Randolph before making a bounce pass to Bledsoe along the baseline for a driving two-handed dunk.
Sure, it got a little ragged from there, Odom committing a turnover and Bledsoe air-balling a three-point attempt as the Grizzlies rallied to tie the score.
The Clippers needed four jumpers by Paul in the final 3 minutes 46 seconds to persevere.
But they never would have gotten there without their bench.
“We were tough and resilient,” Odom said.
Crawford finished with 15 points on six-for-10 shooting. Bledsoe had eight points and four rebounds. Barnes had seven points and three rebounds.
For the game, the Clippers bench outscored Memphis’ reserves, 30-11, giving it a two-game advantage of 79-51 as the series shifts back to Memphis for Game3 Thursday.
“There’s no letup when our bench comes in,” Barnes said. “We either want to maintain the lead, extend the lead or get the lead and I think we’ve done a good job thus far.”
Crawford was the offensive catalyst in the first half, his unguardable crossover moves freeing him for a dizzying array of jumpers. He made five of six shots in the second quarter for 10 points, playing as if he was trying to send a message to those who selected New York’s J.R. Smith the NBA’s sixth man of the year earlier in the day.
Turiaf was a ball of energy, forcing the jump ball and later turning toward fans to roar after the Clippers forced a turnover. Bledsoe blocked a shot by Tony Allen, leading to a Blake Griffin turnaround jumper. Barnes went in for a one-handed dunk after cutting through the lane and taking a pass from Paul.
“That’s what it takes,” Bledsoe said. “All the little things always help. The hustle plays, 50-50 balls, I think we got our hands on pretty much all of them tonight.”
Paul would score the game’s biggest basket, of course.
But credit the reserves with a massive assist.