|Gay (right) wouldn't let anyone forget Game 1 happened, using it as motivation for Game 2. (Getty Images)|
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- For three days, the conversation centered on whether the Grizzlies could forget about Sunday, put that historically bad Game 1 collapse in the rearview mirror and move forward against the Clippers with the same grit-grind approach that helped create an atmosphere that feels strange unless 18,119 fans are holding yellow towels that read "Believe Memphis."
How do they put that behind them?
Can they possibly put that behind them?
These are the questions folks were asking in advance of Wednesday, which seems silly in hindsight because the Grizzlies didn't actually want to put that deflating loss behind them at all. They wanted to put it above them. On the video board. Moments before tipoff. And force thousands of people -- thousands of people who spent the days leading up to the start of Game 2 trying to forget the end of Game 1 -- to watch Rudy Gay miss all over again at the buzzer and the Clippers celebrate all over again after the buzzer.
The approach was equal parts unusual and effective.
It was unusual because ... well, what other franchise would show its worst moment on a video board before a home game? But it was also effective because what followed that clip was a series of closeups of Memphians -- old Memphians, young Memphians, white Memphians, black Memphians, all sorts of Memphians -- staring straight into a camera and stating "I believe" in a weird act of defiance that rallied everybody. And what followed those clips was a 105-98 victory that gave those same Memphians a reason to keep believing as this best-of-7 series in the Western Conference shifts to Los Angeles.
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"That game happened," Gay said.
But so did this one.
And because this one happened this is now essentially a best-of-5 series that will continue Saturday at Staples Center with the type of intrigue that made some describe it as the best first-round matchup of these 2012 NBA playoffs. Had the Clippers won Wednesday, forget about it. Memphis could've still advanced in theory, I guess. But the odds would've been overwhelmingly against the Grizz because teams that go down 0-2 at home don't have a great track record of recovering in this sport. Or any sport, really.
"We feel like we should be going home 2-0," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said.
Grizz point guard Mike Conley feels differently.
"We feel like this is going to be a six- or seven-game series," Conley said. "Both teams are fighting hard."
Which was not the case in Game 1.
The Grizzlies shot well in Game 1 (69 percent from 3-point range) and started strong (up 18 points after one quarter) but stopped fighting -- hard or otherwise -- when the Clippers made the fourth-quarter run that helped them overcome a 24-point deficit with fewer than eight minutes remaining. Marc Gasol turned the ball over. Zach Randolph got beat off the bounce. Gay lost Nick Young in transition on consecutive possessions -- basically because he just didn't run with him -- and watched the Clippers reserve bury three consecutive 3-pointers from the corner. It was the opposite of fighting hard and the Grizzlies' grit-grind philosophy. Chris Paul went so far as to say it was the Clippers who showed signs of grit-grind. He promised he would try to help them do it again in Game 2.
And he did.
Chris Paul was terrific.
He finished with 29 points on 17 shots -- "He scored on everybody," Grizz coach Lionel Hollins said -- but still couldn't get the Clippers closer than four points in the fourth quarter. So the home team held on and the visiting team had to settle for a split in Memphis. And a lot of the same people who spent Sunday night exiting this downtown arena quietly and in disbelief spent Wednesday night pouring into the Beale Street bars with a renewed belief that must've wavered some in the aftermath of Game 1, despite what the video that played just before Game 2 suggested.
Now Memphians know this series will return to this city next week.
It might return 3-1 Clippers. Or 3-1 Grizzlies. Or tied 2-2. But this series will return to this city next week regardless of what happens in Games 3 and 4. And that's not something that would've been guaranteed without this Game 2 victory that can finally put that Game 1 loss in the past.