By Broderick Turner Los Angeles Times
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — They found each other on the court this time, hugging, slapping high-fives, smiling, all the Los Angeles Clippers amazed at what they had just accomplished.
What they had done was almost unfathomable for a franchise with so little playoff history, and for a team that had been so hastily assembled this season.
The Clippers on Sunday won a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies, 82-72, at the FedEx Forum _ prevailing in a winner-take-all game on the road, a situation in which few gave them much chance of success.
They won the series, 4-3, despite a rotation full of injured players _ including starters Blake Griffin (sprained left knee), Chris Paul (strained right hip) and Caron Butler (broken left hand) and key reserve Mo Williams (sore right hand) _ and partly because of major Game 7 contributions from their bench.
They upset the odds to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs for just the second time since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1984, earning a matchup with the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
“It was going to come down to who was more determined,” said reserve forward Reggie Evans, who collected nine rebounds and played rugged defense on Zach Randolph (nine points on three-for-12 shooting) and Marc Gasol (19 points).
“Everybody on our team was determined. Everybody on the bench and on the court was determined to get this game. When we got on the plane from L.A. to Memphis _ not trying to sound arrogant or nothing _ we packed for San Antonio. So at the end of the day, we were going to leave it all out there.”
NBA history was against the Clippers _ visiting teams had won just 19.5 percent of Game 7s.
Clippers history was against them too _ this is a franchise that was 0-2 in Game 7s, and has made the playoffs only five times since Donald Sterling purchased the team 31 years ago, and eight times overall.
And this is a Clippers team with nine new players on the roster, a team that twice had failed to close out Memphis after building a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
But now they can say they are a Clippers team that will play in the Western Conference semifinals. Game 1 is Tuesday night and Game 2 Thursday night in San Antonio, followed by back-to-back games Saturday afternoon and Sunday night at Staples Center.
“Well, 20 percent of the teams have won on the road, right?” said Kenyon Martin, who had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, plus two blocked shots.
“So nothing is impossible in this business and I believe that. If you go out and you compete at a high level, you give yourself a chance. But if you don’t come out and compete, then you have a problem.”
All 10 Clippers who played competed well Sunday.
Griffin had just eight points and four rebounds, his knee limiting his play and playing time.
Paul had 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Clippers’ reserves combined to score 41 points, half of the team’s total. More remarkably, they scored 25 of the team’s 27 points in the fourth quarter, while the Grizzlies were held to 16. Nick Young had nine points and Martin had seven in the fourth, when the only points by a Clippers starter were two Paul free throws with 28.4 seconds left.
The reserves also combined for half of the Clippers’ rebounds, helping them beat the Grizzlies on the boards (46-44) for the first time since Game 1. The Clippers’ 13-12 advantage in offensive rebounds was their first in the series.
They also shot 78.3 percent from the free-throw line (18 for 23), their best performance in the series.
“I don’t care if you are at home or on the road, a Game 7 is all heart and we showed a lot of heart,” said Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, who has played in four seven-game series during his 14-year career but suffered a season-ending left Achilles’ tendon injury in February. “It was a great series. I just think this team grew up a lot in two weeks.”