And they showed some growing maturity in coming home and taking care of business, winning two nail-biters to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their first playoff series in the Chris Paul era.
The second of those two games came Monday night, a gritty 101-97 overtime win led by forward Blake Griffin (30 points, a playoff high) and point guard Chris Paul (27 points, nine rebounds, seven assists).
“Total team effort,” Paul said after the game. “But in the end, it was our defense that won it for us.”
Now they must show a killer instinct and, yes, the fact that “Clippers” and “killer instinct” are being used in the same sentence does suggest that times have changed in the NBA.
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose tweeted: “Chris Paul is a leader throwback PF trapped in a PG’s body. He will not let the Clips lose this series vs Memphis.”
For most of their history, the Clippers have been the victim, the downtrodden, the doormat.
But with Paul directing the show and Griffin supplying the oohs and aahs, the Clippers look like a sure thing to make the second round.
Now they must find a way to keep their foot on the throat of the Memphis Grizzlies and close out a playoff series many people picked them to lose.
“Down the stretch, Chris Paul made all the plays,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said postgame. “We’re going against a great player. The guy’s a great player, and that’s what great players do. We’ve got to take hold of the bull by the horns before the fourth quarter. If not in Game 5 Wednesday, the end will likely come in Game 6 Friday back in Staples Center.”
Since the Clippers franchise began in San Diego in 1978 and then moved to Los Angeles in 1984, the team has not advanced past the first round of the playoffs in the same season that the Los Angeles Lakers advanced. The Clippers franchise had made the playoffs only four times before this season. Three of those seasons they were eliminated in the first round. The fourth, in 2005-06, they reached the Western Conference semifinals – but the Lakers were eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Suns, who, in turn, eliminated the Clippers in the next round.
Game by game, the Clippers are gaining the kind of postseason experience they need to one day get beyond a round or two in the playoffs.
At present, their playoff credentials are modest. In fact, three starters – Griffin, center DeAndre Jordan and guard Randy Foye – are in their first playoff series.
“It was a battle today, no question about it,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Nego said. “We struggled at times to score a little bit. …We just could never get away from them. Caron gave us a huge boost. Guy’s got a broken hand, gave us 14 points.”
And for all the clutch play and leadership of seven-year veteran Paul, he just turned 27 Sunday, and if the Clippers advance to Round 2, it will be only his second trip that far.
But Monday they responded with calm when the game got increasingly physical, and they kept their cool when they lost their lead early in the fourth, and they shined in overtime.