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After historic comeback, 'Believe' turns into unbelievable in Memphis

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The Grizzlies let the Clippers get past them, and that might haunt them for a while. (Getty Images)  
The Grizzlies let the Clippers get past them, and that might haunt them for a while. (Getty Images)  

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- I don't blame you if you went to bed early (Monday alarm clocks are the worst) or simply changed the channel (blowouts are boring) because either move seemed like a reasonable move given the late local tip time and the fact that the Grizzlies were up 24 points with eight minutes remaining. But if you did, you missed something.

Something wild.

Something unpredictable.

Something that made NBA history.

"That game was such a blur," Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. "I need to watch it to remember."

Folks in Memphis need to watch it only if they wanna puke.

Again.

The Grizzlies were up 18 points after one quarter, 19 points after two quarters, 21 points after three quarters and 24 points with only eight minutes remaining. And yet they still -- somehow, they still -- lost 99-98 late Sunday here at FedExForum to fall behind 1-0 in their best-of-7 series with the Clippers.

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It was a historic collapse in a city that knows historic collapses. (You remember the 2008 national title game that the Memphis Tigers lost to the Kansas Jayhawks despite leading by nine with 2:12 left, don't you?) It was a historic collapse that was the result of a 28-3 run from the Clippers to close a game that ended with Rudy Gay running off the final seconds of the clock before missing a contested 15-footer at the buzzer.

"That's what Rudy decided to do," Grizz coach Lionel Hollins said.

OK then.

And that's pretty much how every interview with everybody connected to the Memphis franchise sounded. Nobody had any answers other than the typical remarks about letting up and getting conservative and counting playoff wins before they hatch.

Meantime, Clips coach Vinny Del Negro acknowledged he was "about a minute" away from pulling Paul and other key players in the fourth quarter, "about a minute" away from calling it a night and conceding a Game 1 loss in a hostile environment featuring 18,119 towel-waving fans.

But then Reggie Evans got a layup to cut the lead to 22.

And then Blake Griffin dunked to cut the lead to 20.

And then Paul got a layup (95-77), Eric Bledsoe buried a jumper (95-79) and a 3-pointer (95-82), Griffin got a layup (96-84) and Nick Young hit three consecutive 3-pointers in the span of 60 seconds to cut the Grizzlies lead to 96-93 with 1:47 remaining, and suddenly this building known locally as the Grind House felt more like the WTF House.

The same Grizzlies who had completely dominated the first 40 minutes were on their heels and out of sorts. They spent the final 90 seconds watching Griffin and Paul sandwich free throws around a layup from Evans that helped the Clippers get to 99 points -- one more than Memphis scored thanks to a 13-point fourth quarter.

"I don't think I've been a part of a game like that ever," Griffin said. "It was unbelievable."

So just like that, the advantage that is home court is gone for the Grizzlies. They had to win their final five regular-season games -- and watch the Clippers lose their final two -- just to earn the right to never have to win at Staples Center to win this series, but now that has been squandered.

They'll have to win in Los Angeles at least once now, or they won't advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the second successive season, and that's not anything anybody thought would be the case when Memphis led by 24 with eight minutes remaining or even by 12 with less than three minutes left.

This defeat came out of nowhere. And it stung. And it must be especially tough for the Grizzlies to digest considering they lost despite shooting 69 percent from 3-point range while Paul (5 for 12 from the field) and Griffin (7 for 15) were both just OK relative to what they figure to be going forward.

Will the Grizzlies recover?

Can they?

The players will no doubt address those questions during a Monday afternoon media session, but the real answers won't come until Game 2 late Wednesday back at FedExForum, when another crowd of 18,119 will file into this first-class arena just off Beale Street and wave yellow towels that read "Believe Memphis."

Whether those fans will believe as much as they believed when they woke up Sunday morning is hard to figure. But one thing for certain is that they'll at least believe in the unbelievable -- if for no other reason than that they spent Sunday night witnessing the unbelievable take place.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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