After pulling out to a 3-1 advantage in their best of seven first round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies; the Los Angeles Clippers dropped the next two games of the series. In order for the Clippers to win the series they would have to go into the lion’s den (otherwise known as the Fed Ex Forum in Memphis) Sunday and pull out a victory; they would be up to the task as Los Angeles would shut down the Grizzlies and win the contest 82-72.
With the victory the franchise not only won their second Playoff series since moving to the “City Of Angels”; they might have guaranteed that bench boss Vinny Del Negro will be back as the team’s head coach next season. Although this is the final year of his deal; the team has an option to bring him back for next season and the victory on Sunday may be enough to convince Team Owner Donald Sterling to exercise that option, even if the club is swept in the next round by the San Antonio Spurs.
It was not all that long ago, that a far different fate seemed destined for Del Negro and the Clippers. Early in the campaign the Clippers looked like they had a legitimate chance of being a threat to the Lakers continued dominance of Los Angeles as the additions of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, along with All-Star Blake Griffin had suddenly turned the franchise into a high-profile NBA team. The team was riding high when the veteran Billups was lost for the year after he tore his left Achilles’ tendon in a win over the Orlando Magic in early February. The squad went from battling with the Lakers for the Pacific Division Title; to being concerned whether they would even make the Playoffs.
As the campaign reached late March, the team had gone 4-6 mark in their last 10 contests, and there were reports that Del Negro had lost the club and could be fired at any time. After losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-91, the head coach went ballistic on his players; screaming so loudly that reporters in the hallway outside of the locker room were able to hear him. Many observers of the Association believed that when Del Negro exploded at his players his ouster was imminent; it turned out they would be far off the mark.
Sterling gave his coach a vote of confidence, telling reporters “I like him. I usually follow the advice of my people, and I think they care for him, like him and want him to succeed. And I think he will. Would I like more wins? I’d like more. I’d like the players to develop more; I’d like to play better. But then I have great expectations, and to a certain extent they’ve been realized.”
Whether the coach and the team were inspired by the show of faith by Sterling; or they just decided to make the best of a bad situation, the club started winning again and would wind up as the fifth seed in the West. The Clippers were down by 27 points in their first game in Memphis, but they fought back and won the game. After going ahead by a 3-1 margin in the series Los Angeles allowed Memphis to deadlock the match-up at 3-3 with the final game in their building. Even with a banged up Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the team did what they needed to do with the Clippers bench coming up big in the contest scoring 41 of the team’s 82 points.
You do not go through an experience as the Clippers have just undergone without a bond being formed between everybody who made it happen; even if it was not there prior to the event. If the players had wanted their coach gone; losing Sunday would have cinched it. The fact that they won; just might enough to convince all concerned that the present situation works just fine.