The Clippers had no business winning this game. Then again, neither did Memphis. After watching the game, I'm actually a little surprised to see in the box score that the shooting wasn't as bad as I thought. Make no mistake - percentages of 41% for the Clippers and 39.5% for the Grizzlies are not good, but it felt worse than that while the game was going on.
In trying to frame the Clippers' come from behind victory, I'm having difficulty getting past the numerous terrible errors they committed in the game. (Kaman's decision to pass out of the post into Tony Allen's waiting arms, while he still had his dribble available, with plenty of time on the clock, and without even attacking the basket at all despite solid post position, was particularly maddening.) This could certainly be characterized as a game the Grizzlies lost, as opposed to one the Clippers won. But I will say this: they hung around. On several occasions as the Memphis lead grew to 10 or 12, it felt like the game would get completely out of hand at any moment. But the Clippers hung around and hung around, and put themselves in position to win at the end.
And what a strange ending it was, too. If you didn't watch, after Mo Williams had given the Clippers a three point lead (their largest since the opening minute of the game) with six points in 30 seconds, a Mike Conley layup cut the lead back down to one with 29.5 seconds left on the game clock. After a Clippers timeout, their intent was to work some clock before taking a shot, but as is so often the case in these situations, they were too intent on using clock and not intent enough on getting a decent shot. As the possession spiraled toward disaster, Eric Bledsoe somehow regained possession of a ball he'd almost lost twice, and collided with Memphis' Tony Allen as he tried to release a desperation shot in the lane. The whistle blew - in fact, two whistles blew, and the referees wielding those whistles had two different calls.
Violet Palmer, positioned under the basket, had a block all the way - she's clearly visible on the replay, and she raises her hand to indicate that the shot will count if it goes, before signaling the block. Tony Brothers, positioned out front, saw it differently, and called it a charge. Invariably in these situations, the more senior official tends to take over and say, "Hey, it's my call kid." For some reason, that didn't happen here, which is a good thing for the Clippers because Brothers has several years on Palmer in the NBA. Instead, they discussed it, and agreed to disagree on the call, each standing by their own interpretation. They then went to the replay monitor to determine if the foul (whichever it was) had occurred before the shot clock had expired (it did). Once they had established that there was no shot clock violation, all that was left was to have a jump ball at mid court. Of course, while all of this was happening, it was essentially impossible to know exactly what they were discussing, why they were reviewing the play, what they had decided.
Short of a charge, the jump ball was as good a call as the Clippers could have hoped for. Essentially, they'd used the entire shot clock, leaving fewer than 6 seconds on the game clock, and still had a chance at possession. It's also worth noting that in a held ball situation, the team originally in possession would NOT get a new shot clock on a jump ball, but because this was a disputed call, the shot clock was reset (or in this case, turned off). Unfortunately for the Clippers, DeAndre Jordan was not in the game at the time and could not be subbed in, as DJ controls taps against almost anyone in the league, with the possible exception of JaVale McGee. But fortunately for the Clippers, Marc Gasol, while very big and very strong, is not particularly athletic. Indeed, Kaman controlled the tap. Blake Griffin alertly got the ball to Mo Williams, who deftly avoided a foul attempt by Shane Battier, and ran out the clock. Clippers win.
Almost more bizarre to me than the confusion over the call itself, was Memphis' handling of those final six seconds. Shane Battier seemed to be the only member of the Grizzlies aware that they needed to foul if they didn't control the tap. Quite honestly, it never occurred to me that the Clippers would win without Memphis ever getting the ball back. If LA won the tap, they would of course get fouled, and hopefully they'd make their free throws. But even then, Memphis might have time to tie the game with a last second three. Instead, while Battier literally dove at Williams to try to foul him, Tony Allen and Mike Conley just stood there and watched as Williams dribbled away the clock. I'm still at a loss as to how that could have happened. 5.7 seconds is a LOT of time. Why weren't they scrambling desperately after the ball? Very, very strange.
Although the Clippers were not sharp for the most part, it must be said that Williams came up huge in the fourth. He scored nine points, on two three pointers and an old-fashioned 'and one' three point play. As I mentioned, the final six came in succession, and turned a three point deficit into a three point advantage that held up. Williams was sorely needed as well, because Eric Gordon was nowhere to be found in the fourth period. It's not just that he played poorly - he literally wasn't on the floor for the final 17 minutes of the game. Along with most of the rest of the team, Gordon wasn't particularly sharp, but his absence must surely have been related to something beyond a simple coach's decision. One can only assume that his sore wrist began bothering him more than usual, which does not bode well for tomorrow night in Oklahoma City nor for the final four games.
In the back of my mind, I've been sort of tracking the Clippers on going performance since the low water mark of the season at 5-21 back in mid December. When they began to play so poorly in late March, and given the difficulty of their remaining schedule, I figured that the .500 mark since then they'd been hanging around for a while was soon to become a distant memory. But after back to back wins against playoff teams, they're back at 26-26 in their last 52 games. They're still a long way away from where they need to be, but a .500 record over the course of over 50 games is a decent accomplishment when you consider where this team had been.
It's also perhaps more than trivial that the Clippers have been finding ways to win close games lately. In fact, their last four wins qualify as probably their best four close wins of the season. (Note that I don't consider one point victories over Chicago and Sacramento as good close wins, since the Clippers did everything in their power to lose those games down the stretch.) For the first time this season, the Clippers are making plays in the final minute, and getting stops, and scoring key baskets. This is where Mo Williams, shoot first point guard, can come in handy. He's certainly not afraid to take big shots, and he's even made a couple, including tonight. Eric Gordon also hit huge late threes in recent games, and if your backcourt can make shots at the end of close games, it can make a huge difference. For over four months this season, the Clippers lost every close game they were in - including one to these same Grizzlies. Now they've won four straight. Will it carry over to next season? We'll see.
The Clippers did a lot of things to lose this game. They turned the ball over 20, which almost always translates to a loss, especially on the road. They didn't shoot well (with the exception of Chris Kaman, who was 7 for 12). They were beaten on back door cuts again and again (why don't more NBA teams get scores from back door cuts?). But they hung around and put themselves in a position to win, which is a great start.
It's a week away still, but an interesting rematch is looming for these teams. Sacramento helped Memphis out tonight by beating Houston (in Houston, no less), but Memphis could still be in a battle for the final playoff spot when they come to LA on the final day of the regular season in a national TV game. Memphis will be looking to avenge this loss, especially if they are still uncertain of their playoff position. And even if Houston is out of the picture, Memphis will be battling for playoff seeding (though a seventh seed, which will likely mean the Lakers in the first round, may not be preferable to an eighth seed this year). At any rate, I think the final game of the season could be very interesting at this point. After all, when the Clippers and Grizzlies play, bizarre things tend to happen.