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T.J. SIMERS

Believe this ... Clippers' playoff comeback is stunning

They look to be history by halftime against fired-up Memphis, but then go all Cinderella in a quick, fantastic turnaround. After the victory, the Clippers appear to be floating on air.

April 29, 2012|T.J. Simers

MEMPHIS — A lifetime watching sports, and just wow!

The emotional high belongs to the Grizzlies. They send out an 8-year-old girl from St. Jude's to sing the national anthem, and the noise never stops.

There are fireworks, the music louder than anything Lon Rosen tried to introduce to Dodger Stadium, and it looks as if a professional basketball team is taking on well-meaning church league players.

PHOTOS: Clippers vs. Grizzlies, Game 1

This one is over after the first quarter. The Clippers are history by halftime, cooked by the end of the third quarter.

And Chris Paul is telling Coach Vinny Del Negro he doesn't want to come out of the game.

The team's trainer is telling Del Negro that Paul needs a breather, everyone concerned about his groin injury.

But Paul wants back in, telling Del Negro, "There's a chance.''

His teammates hear him. As Del Negro will say later, "It's contagious."

And what happens next is fantastic, and that word still isn't enough. It's mind-blowing, shocking, dumbfounding and did I mention shocking?

"We had it all the way," deadpans Del Negro, like the Dodgers did a few years back getting back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to tie a game and then winning it in extra innings.

And I had to rewrite a Page 2 column that night as well, the bums going Cinderella on everyone just in time to beat deadline and be crowned heroes.

Standing in the hallway outside the Clippers' locker room, the players float by on air. There isn't a sound in an arena filled with more than 18,000 fans looking for a way out.

Paul, meanwhile, is walking toward the Clippers' locker room and shouting, "Heck yes, it's not over until it's over."

Absolutely stunning! The Clippers are a Memphis sweep waiting to be completed and then suddenly they are 99-98 winners.

The comeback is so quick, Paul is saying later, "I have no idea what happened. I'm going to have to watch video."

The crowd has been waving yellow towels, almost everyone in the building wearing white T-shirts that read: "Believe" and the Clippers do.

It's the Grizzlies who make such a big deal out of their mottoes, "Grind forth" and "grit," but they collapse like a deflated blow-up toy.

They have gagged as much as the Clippers have stayed the course, and probably too early to say which will have the bigger impact on either team.

Caron Butler is in street clothes for the Clippers, his left hand fractured. Blake Griffin is struggling, Paul is playing with a scowl on his face and is beyond frustration. He's nailed with a technical foul.

But it's the bench mob, guys like Nick Young, Reggie Evans and Eric Bledsoe who are pulling off the NBA's biggest playoff comeback in who knows how long, the archivists still at work.

There is clapping in the Clippers' locker room long after the game. The team hotel is across the street but the team's trainer is telling everyone they must take a bus to get there. Who knows what unhappy fans might do outside the building?

"What do I always say, as long as I'm on the court I always feel as if we have a chance," Paul says, and how much have the Clippers changed since he arrived in town?

No one wanted to play Memphis, the Grizzlies considered a first-round nightmare, and they were not only "beating L.A.," but beating L.A. up.

But who wants to play a team that features Paul as team leader?

"It's a win, but it's only one game," Paul is saying, five minutes into a celebration and announcing it's already over.

"We have some more games to play," he says.

And everyone just needs to take a breather, Clipper by Clipper just sitting in front of their lockers with a towel across their laps and emotionally drained.

"Teams fight back like that and most of the time, they lose," Paul says, "and then in the postgame interviews they're saying, 'We didn't give up.' But to win, to see that last shot by Memphis hit the front of the rim, all these aches and pains from such a night are just gone."

Meanwhile, high school coaches everywhere are probably trying to get in contact with the Clippers to get a copy of the fourth quarter. They will never have a better example of why a team should never quit no matter what the score.

"We've had the same problem all season long getting down early," says Paul. "I guess it took getting hit in the mouth, and getting hit good to get us going. But we have to change that; we have to come out firing from the very start."

The Clippers will have to do so without Butler. And they are already without Chauncey Billups and didn't do well early on in making adjustments.

Game 2 is Wednesday, with Young most likely replacing Butler, and how desperate will Memphis be to get back on track?

"It's scary what we just pulled off," says Paul. "Just the magnitude of the game, game one, the road, everyone sitting courtside saying something about you except maybe about your mom and it's the playoffs. And the playoffs are so much fun, especially when you win. And win like that."

It's so unbelievable, as good a reason as any to watch sports and be treated to the unexpected. And rewrite a column.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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