The following is the first in a series of “Lob City Memories” that will highlight some of the standout people, moments and games from the six-plus years of Lob City in Los Angeles. Over the next couple of months, we will look back at things a little more obscure than a Spurs series victory, Chris Paul buzzer beater over Tony Allen, Blake Griffin alley-oop off Jamal Crawford’s between-the-legs pass, or DeAndre Jordan humiliation of Brandon Knight. Part 1 of Lob City Memories looks back at Grant Hill’s lockdown at the Garden.
The Clippers landed in New York on Feb. 9 at the tail end of one of the more disappointing Grammy road trips in team history. After limping to a win in Minnesota, the Clippers were bludgeoned by the Raptors in Rudy Gay’s Toronto debut and went on to lose four of the next five games. Home never seemed more appealing.
The only win in between was a Spurs-esqe comeback win on the road against Orlando, with effectively Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan against the world. Injury issues and the post-traumatic effects of a 17-game winning streak were lingering. A team that owned the best record in the NBA a month earlier, seemed bound as an easy out in the playoffs (they would be, but not for the reasons you’d have thought).
With injuries mounting, Vinny Del Negro, the team’s much-maligned and sometimes underappreciated head coach, was finally forced to sporadically use Hall of Famer Grant Hill. In his 18th season, the 40-year-old Hill signed with the Clippers intent on finishing out his career as a key reserve on a team full of veterans. It was never anticipated that Matt Barnes would sign in August as a pseudo insurance policy or that a couple days into the team’s preseason trip to China, Hill would sustain a bone bruise in his knee. His season ended before it started.
Hill didn’t make his Clippers debut until January, and while he flashed the myriad ways he could help from time-to-time, it was never enough for anyone to make the argument: “Let Grant Hill play. He’ll win the Clippers a playoff game or two if he gets right.”
About five weeks after Hill’s first game, and roughly no weeks of playing more than two or three games on the schedule, the Clippers needed someone to drag them out of a Sunday malaise on ABC.
Through two-and-a-half quarters Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony decimated the suddenly full-strength Clippers. Chauncey Billups returned the game before in Miami, and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler were back, too. Anthony scored 33 points in fewer than three quarters. He was locked in. It was national TV. The Knicks were 32-16 on the season (the last time they were somewhat relevant).
Butler couldn’t stop him. Barnes couldn’t stop him. Willie Green? Not a chance. Lamar Odom? Nope. Even Griffin got torched a couple of times for good measure. With 3:21 to go in the third quarter, Hill popped off the bench and entered the game for the first time. He promptly got scored on by Anthony, a layup early in the shot clock. But from there, Hill turned in one of the more unexpected performances of the entire season, perhaps the entire Lob City era.
Anthony scored just seven points after that initial layup against Hill. He never got it going as Hill and a pick-and-roll defensive adjustment bottled him up. In 15-straight minutes on the floor, Hill scored two points and had two rebounds. It mattered little. Paul suggested Hill earned a game ball afterwards. Crawford, who did so many Jamal Crawford things en route to an 11-point fourth quarter, said the Clippers don’t win without Hill.
Here’s what Hill said about matching up with one of the league’s premier scorers at the time:
”I’ve battled against him. He’s a great player,” Hill said. “I have as much respect for him. He’s one of my favorite players to watch but you try to do things to make it difficult. You’ve to have selective memory because when he hits a shot, you’ve just got to be able to move on to the next play.”
Thanks to Hill, the Clippers were able to move on to the next win. They’d close the trip in Philadelphia with a resounding win and take eight of the next nine.
Outside of Hill’s debut against his former team and his 1,000th career game, there weren’t many highlights during his brief Clippers tenure. But those 15 minutes in Madison Square Garden are still hard to forget.