Clippers Ride Their Reserves Into Round Two

As the Los Angeles Clippers pursued their first playoff series victory since 2006 and just their second since 1976, you had to know that entry into the second round wouldn’t come in routine fashion.

So it was natural, then, that securing a date with the Spurs in the Western Conference semis required a full seven games and a win on the road in the deciding Game 7 with the Clippers’ star tandem (Chris Paul and Blake Griffin) hobbled. Leave it to L.A.’s previously perennial laughingstocks to slumber through three fairly uninspired quarters of the decisive game, only to unexpectedly come alive with a 27-16 fourth quarter eruption to seal the series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

In a way, it brings to mind the achievements of their lovable loser brother-in-arms from the soccer world, Manchester City, who rallied with two injury time goals on Sunday to win their first English Premier League championship in 44 years.

Although Paul is being credited with legitimizing the club after an off-season trade from New Orleans and Griffin continues to be one of the NBA’s foremost must-see players, they were nowhere to be found when the Clips went on their difference-making run. Instead, it was the unit internally known as “the Goon Squad,” the unlikely quintet of Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young and Mo Williams, that turned what had been a one-point deficit to start the fourth into a 71-61 advantage during what was a 15-5 run.

Going back to the beginning of the season, there was no guarantee that any of the five men would even be in Lob City right now. Martin opened the 2011-12 season in China after signing a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers during the lockout (he was free to sign with Los Angeles on February 3). Evans was a free agent without many suitors (he wasn’t even offered a contract by his former team, the bottom-feeding Toronto Raptors). Bledsoe began the season on the sidelines while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and, like Williams, faced heavy competition for minutes in the backcourt from Paul, Randy Foye and Chauncey Billups. Young was one of several talented headaches the going-nowhere Washington Wizards.

But for a 6:14 stretch in the club’s biggest game of the season, all five men put any talk of the Clippers being a three-man team (Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) on the back burner (not to mention all the flopping / whining talk targeting the team). Instead, they’ve offered up hope of depth, which will be a key issue going into their second round encounter with the firing-on-all-cylinders Spurs.

We don’t know the extent of Paul’s groin woes or Griffin’s sprained knee, but anything less than 100% will be problematic. Paul will need to be at full health to keep Tony Parker in check, while a healthy, explosive Griffin would have a big opportunity to exploit San Antonio’s weakness in playing above the rim.

Once again, then, the secondary Clips will have a chance to come up big. Evans will be asked to bang down low against Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair, while Martin will have to get his mid-range game going (he did on Sunday with 11 points on 5-7 shooting). Bledsoe will be critical in easing the pressure on Paul and may even get the bulk of the Parker assignment. Young and Williams, meanwhile, will look to offer long range shooting options, while also trying to keep San Antonio’s impressive group of young supporting players (Danny Green, Gary Neal and James Anderson) at bay.

You won’t see many folks projecting much more than maybe one victory for the Clippers in their second round tilt (including in our own, well-written series preview). Of course, those same people probably wouldn’t have projected a team needing  to rely on significant, Game 7 production from Martin-Evans-Bledsoe-Young-Williams – and to get it.

Evans Is Leaving His Mark In Los Angeles

Every year there is a player or two that step out of obscurity to become a big part of their teams’ success in the playoffs.

For every Michael Jordan there is a Steve Kerr, for every Dirk Nowitzki there is a Tyson Chandler or Ian Mahimi, for every Kobe Bryant there is a Sasha Vujacic. A player that contributes more in a playoff setting then they may have during the regular season.

For the Clippers this year that player appears to be Reggie Evans.

He’s a banger.  He grabs rebounds he has no business getting, makes himself a pain in the rear on the defensive end and moves around the floor grabbing loose balls and missed shots like he isn’t 250 pounds.

Raptor fans know how valuable Reggie Evans can be to a team, and now the rest of the NBA is now getting a chance to see it as well as he has been a difference maker so far in the playoffs.

Evans is a game changer, an X-factor and in a series as evenly matched as Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers, he might just be the difference maker in this series. A player that tips the scales in his Clippers favor.

Evans has been putting together a nice run in the postseason.  He’s increased his minutes to 22.6 per game and he’s chipping in with 8.7 boards while shooting 50% from the field.  This from a player that averaged 5 rebounds in 13 minutes during the regular season.

His sudden playoff turnaround has come as a major shock south of the border.

Of course, while the rest of the US have been amazed with Evans’ sudden good play, the Raptor faithful in Toronto aren’t surprised at all.  That’s just how he always played the game while he was here. During his two years in Toronto he made himself a fan favorite with his endless effort.  Raptor fans weren’t used to seeing a player haul down rebounds on a regular and consistent basis.  He did.  He earned himself a starting spot during the 2010-11 season mainly because of his rebounding prowess.

Fans here couldn’t get enough of his effort.  He wasn’t a shooter or a flashy player , by any stretch of the imagination, but no player endeared himself to the fans more than Evans.

In fact, on a number of occasions during his time playing on the court and before he came back from injury in 2009 the fans at the ACC regularly chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie.” It now seems to be catching on in Los Angeles.

This year he found himself in LA playing a much less important role.  He didn’t get much time and was only able to make a marginal difference with 4.5 rebounds in limited minutes. He played off the bench behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and eventually Kenyon Martin, too.  He had to make the most of his minutes and, for the most part, he did.  He was the same hardworking player he was in Toronto but the results weren’t as noticeable on the court as they were the year before.

That is, until now.

The playoffs have been a totally different story and it seems like Reggie Evans was built for this time of year.  In the NBA playoffs players with his skill set become king.  Look at how Tyson Chandler exploded last year or how important Joel Anthony was during the Heats’ run last year.  Reggie Evans can be a difference maker in this series.  He may even become a difference maker in the playoffs in general if the Clippers are fortunate to make it beyond Game 7 in Memphis on Sunday.

Then again, Raptor fans already know how valuable Evans can be.  We had him for two years and were fortunate to watch him beat up opposing offenses.  Now while the Raptors prepare for an important offseason fans can sit back and enjoy watching Reggie get up to his old antics.

Hopefully we will get to see a little more after Sunday.