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T.J. SIMERS

Stop making fun of Clippers and have fun with them

The Clippers were an NBA joke for decades, but no more — and their first-round series with Memphis has been a real thrill ride. Fans get in on the fun during a rare Clippers playoff win at Staples.

May 05, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Fan favorite Reggie Evans had 11 rebounds to make up for scoring just one basket during the Clippers' 87-86 playoff victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
Fan favorite Reggie Evans had 11 rebounds to make up for scoring just one… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

I don't know about you, but I'm having a blast.

I'm not in the pit that is Memphis, don't have to document Andrew Bynum's juvenile behavior and I can't imagine having more fun at a Clippers game.

And until recently I'm not sure anyone could even imagine having fun at a Clippers game, let alone its ending in a playoff victory.

This was Clippers playoff win No. 6 in the franchise's history in Staples Center, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin now one for one in winning playoff games at home as Clippers.

It's such a gas because I'm not expecting any of this. Memphis is so much deeper, so much better than the Clippers, but then what do I know?

A few weeks ago I'm telling jockey Mario Gutierrez, who is going to be riding I'll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby, "You don't have a prayer, kid. Might as well stay home and avoid the long trip to Louisville.''

The Clippers are no different than Gutierrez, listening to only their own hearts beating strong all the way to the wire.

The Clippers come back from 27 down to win the first game with Memphis, lose Game 2 and are down by seven in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

They should be on the brink of elimination, but the party's just getting started.

Here it is an early Saturday afternoon in Staples Center, and how many times have we heard about sleepy Lakers crowds at this time of day?

But these people are dressed in "Clipper Nation All In'' red T-shirts, and they're making the kind of noise that suggests they really are all in. Try to get everyone in a Lakers crowd to put on a T-shirt.

"This is my first playoff experience here with the Clippers and I see all this red and everyone's already in their seats when we took the floor," says Paul, his two-year-old son Chris in his lap, and yes, wearing a red shirt.

"It was really something," he says with a sigh. "But now let me tell you, I'm happy for the win, but I don't need this stress in my life. My stomach still is not right."

The Clippers win, 87-86, their starting center fails to take a shot and they are starting Caron Butler, who is playing with one arm, a finger on his left hand fractured.

So why are they ahead two games to one?

Most everyone concludes Butler is done for the season. But anyone who knows anything about Butler's background, which includes time in jail, knows he's been confronted by much more difficult restraints.

"Before the game the coach [Vinny Del Negro] was telling everyone if Caron can play with a broken hand, what can the rest of us do to make a difference?" Paul says.

Butler scores only four points in 22 minutes, but with the game on the line he's in Paul's face and telling him, "Bring it home."

It's a tough city in which to suggest there is no one better in the game these days at closing out an opponent, but Paul is building a strong case.

He runs the offense, has four steals, scores 24 points against Memphis and has 11 assists. It's a problem for Clippers fans, who aren't sure whether they should be chanting "MVP" when Griffin steps to the free-throw line, or save them for Paul.

Paul is the best player on the court and he's wearing a Clippers uniform. The Clippers really are making history.

But the fans are understandably confused. Who is most deserving of their attention when Griffin, Paul and Reggie Evans are in the game at the same time?

So far Evans is winning out, and you have to be here. He comes off the bench and the fans start yelling, "Reggie, Reggie," and who cheers for someone in the entertainment capital who can't score?

"If I wasn't in the game I'd be chanting his name, too," Paul says.

Evans argues later he can score, so he's a dreamer as well as a gifted rebounder. He finishes the game with one basket, and he might be the game's MVP, the game ending appropriately enough with the ball in his hands.

Memphis gets a chance to win with eight seconds remaining, and what a difference eight seconds can make in determining whether it's a great day or a disaster.

Rudy Gay has just hit back-to-back three-pointers and he goes up with a chance to score again.

"I'm thinking, please miss it and I'll do whatever it takes to get the rebound," Evans says.

And he does. There is no danger of a tip-in at the buzzer. And no one is going to get the ball out of Evans' hands.

"I know my role," he says, always looking like he's just arrived from a car wreck.

His middle is wrapped in bandages to keep his back loose. His left shoulder is bandaged and has been since the All-Star break. And you should see the other guys.

But as tough as Evans & Co. have made it on Memphis, are the Clippers really good enough to eke out two more wins?

Kids, they don't have a prayer. They might as well stay home and not make the trip to Memphis.

And I wouldn't mind being wrong in the slightest. It's so much more fun.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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