|Time to rejoice: The Clippers win a postseason series for the third time in 41 years. (Getty Images)|
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Blake Griffin stood in the Clippers' locker room surrounded by reporters and talked about the past and the future while the first quarter of the Heat-Pacers series played on a television over his left shoulder. A dry-erase board was over Griffin's right shoulder. It read, "Call your Mom!"
It also could have read, "Pack for San Antonio!"
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The Clippers overcame injuries to three starters that helped make them eight-point underdogs in Game 7 and erased another fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Grizzlies 82-72 on Sunday afternoon here at FedExForum and advance in the NBA Playoffs for only the third time in 41 years.
I cannot tell you whether any of the players actually called their moms on this Mother's Day in Memphis, as instructed. But what I do know is that DeAndre Jordan was mumbling "Beale Street Killers" to nobody in particular as he dressed following the victory while Chris Paul explained how wasting plane tickets is not something he'll be doing this week.
"I already had my wife and son's flights booked to San Antonio," said the Los Angeles point guard, and those flights will be useful only because of a bench that produced 41 of the Clippers' 82 points and 23 of the Clippers' 46 rebounds.
Nick Young scored 13 of those points.
Fellow reserve Kenyon Martin finished with 11 points and 10 boards.
"Let me talk about my bench," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "The guys coming in -- Reggie [Evans], Kenyon, Nick, Mo [Williams] and Eric Bledsoe were good the whole series. But today they just gave us a huge boost."
Meantime, Memphis got a huge boost from ... nobody.
Not even its coach.
The Grizzlies closed the regular season with six consecutive victories to ensure a possible Game 7 would be played inside FedExForum, and it all seemed worthwhile late Friday when they won Game 6 to even the series at three. Tickets went on sale early Saturday and sold out in a matter of minutes. So the Grizzlies woke up Sunday with homecourt advantage and an understanding that Paul (strained hip flexor), Griffin (sprained knee) and Caron Butler (broken hand) were less than 100 percent, and the consensus around this town was that Memphis would advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the second successive year as long as Lionel Hollins stuck with the inside-outside philosophy that helped the Grizz win Games 5 and 6.
He did not.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol -- the only two current Memphis players ever to be named All-Stars as members of the Grizzlies -- combined to average 29 field-goal attempts in Games 5 and 6 but shot the ball only 23 times in Game 7. Memphis' three primary guards (Mike Conley, Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo) finished 6 for 32 from the field.
"Gotta get the ball in the post," Randolph said. "Gotta get the ball to the bigs down low."
It would also probably be wise to not sit Randolph for four crucial minutes in the fourth quarter like Hollins did for some reason. But the Grizz coach previously had sat Allen, his best perimeter defender, for most of the fourth quarter in Game 1 while the Clippers erased a 24-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining, point being that Hollins has a history of using strange lineups during key stretches. That's why it wasn't a surprise when he did it again Sunday, nor was it a surprise when Memphis fans took to tearing up his Big Head at a local bar during a let-off-some-steam drinking binge.
But that's another Memphis column for another Memphis day.
This day belonged to the Clippers.
They out-gritted and out-grinded the Grizzlies by grabbing 50-50 balls, rebounding with toughness and overcoming all adversity in their way. Paul was neither full strength nor impressive while missing 10 of the 17 shots and turning over the ball five times. Griffin played only 28 minutes and missed 8 of 11 shots. But it didn't matter because Los Angeles still won.
How exactly the Clippers took a Game 7 on the road with their two best players hobbled is something fans in Memphis will ponder the next few days. But while Memphians are debating Hollins' strategy and whether the franchise could or should do anything to try to sign Mayo to an extension, the Clippers will be in San Antonio attempting to upset Tony Parker's Spurs.
Whether they'll be healthy and good enough to do it is debatable.
But Chris Paul will be there.
And so will his wife and son, thanks to those purchased plane tickets he never intended to waste.