Mark Wiedmer: L.A. Clippers are easy to like during their NBA playoff run

Mark Wiedmer: L.A. Clippers are easy to like during their NBA playoff run

May 14th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

The vast majority of this newspaper's subscribers live in Tennessee. Because Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, it could be argued that we should all be Memphis Grizzlies fans whenever the NBA playoffs begin and the Griz are in the mix.

(Of course, a lot of you have long been Atlanta Hawks fans -- and since the Big Peach is less than two hours away while it sometimes seems you need a plane, train and automobile to reach Memphis -- rooting for the Hawks, however fruitless, is at least convenient.)

But with the lowly Los Angeles Clippers facing Memphis in this year's opening round, it seemed that growling for the Griz could last awhile, at least into the second round, where they figured to meet the San Antonio Spurs, whom they'd stunned in last year's first round.

After all, the Clippers are to the NBA what the Chicago Cubs are to baseball minus the lovable loser tag and an iconic ball field to play in such as Wrigley Field.

For perspective, the Clips began as the Buffalo Braves during the 1970-71 season, moved to San Diego in 1978, then LA six years later. If you're counting at home, that means they've been around for 41 years. Heading into Sunday afternoon's Game 7 against Memphis, the Clips had won two playoff series total over that span and never a seventh game.

Beyond that, the Griz were easy to root for when the playoffs began last month. They had a calm, wise, gentlemanly coach in Lionel Hollins. They had underappreciated talent in center Marc Gasol -- L.A. Lakers center Pau Gasol's younger brother -- point guard Mike Conley and fluid forward Rudy Gay.

And they had those manic Memphis fans, who seem every bit as crazy as the ones who've followed the Memphis Tigers all these years, perhaps because many of them support both.

But then the Griz-Clips series began and the Left Coast losers did something that's never been done before in the NBA playoffs, or probably any other level of postseason basketball. The Clippers came from 24 down with less than eight minutes to play to steal the opener of the best-of-seven series on the Grizzlies' home floor.

I've watched the NBA playoffs since 1968, and I don't think I've ever seen a team come from 24 down in less than eight minutes, especially away from home. Yet L.A. did it, and because they did it, I had a hard time not rooting for them from that point forward.

On Sunday they finished the deal, the Clippers winning 82-72 when their bench stunningly scored LA's first 23 points of the final quarter.

In fact, the Clippers' bench outscored the Grizzlies' reserves 41-11, which is easily the biggest reason why L.A. Lite -- hey, the Lakers have 16 NBA crowns, the Clips zip -- is advancing to the second round against the Spurs.

"Unfortunately, no one on the bench stepped up and helped us," said Hollins.

Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, the end of the Artest formerly known as Ron's seven-game suspension came just in time to help the LA Heavies (the Lakers) advance to the Western Conference semis against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Having unofficially changed his name to Metta World Peace last year, Artest showed the unfunny irony in that when he roughly clubbed the Thunder's James Harden in the back of the head with an elbow during a regular-season game on April 22.

The resulting suspension kept Artest out of the Lakers-Denver Nuggets series until Game 7 on Saturday night and his return was almost certainly the reason the Lakers prevailed. So if you're a Nuggets fan today, you can curse commissioner David Stern for not making it one game longer.

On the other hand, had it been shorter, the Nuggets might not have been around to play a seventh game.

Either way, any brief thought that Artest was genuinely sorry for his all-world cheap shot went out the window over the weekend when he answered a reporter's question about how he would greet Harden at the start of this week's second-round series by saying, "I don't shake substitutes' hands."

Here's hoping Harden -- the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year -- won't shake his hand if the Thunder knocks the lordly Lakers from the playoffs.

Here's also hoping that should the Clippers somehow stun the Spurs -- who right now look the favorite to win it all -- they become LA's new favorite team. At least until the Lakers show Artest the door.