Monday, April 30, 2012

99-98: Sports Perfection and Imperfection at a High Level

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Forget the Grizzlies for a minute and think, instead, about the 18,000 towel-waving fans who were at the game and the thousands more who watched it on television. How are we supposed to deal with that shocking collapse and 99-98 loss that left us stunned when we went to bed last night and still stunned this morning when we got up to go to work?

It's cold comfort, but never again are we likely see such perfection at such a high level. That goes for the Clippers, who played just about perfectly on offense and defense during their 26-1 run in the fourth quarter, and the Grizzlies who, individually and collectively, played perfectly awful offensively and defensively by the standards of a high school or college team much less an NBA team playing at home in the Playoffs.

For the Grizzlies to lose, both things had to happen again and again and again. And, lucky us, we saw it.

The Clippers not only had to make lots of baskets, they had to make them quickly. Their near-perfect shooting was aided and abetted by the Grizzlies near-perfect lack of defense.

And the baskets could not be two-pointers; to catch up, most of them had to be three-pointers. Again, the Grizzlies obliged by making sure no one obstructed Nick Young in the corners as he poured in three of them in a little over a minute. Perfect shooting and perfect incompetence.

The Clippers also needed to shoot some free throws, because that stops the clock. Who better to shoot them than star guard Chris Paul? So, with 23 seconds left, the Grizzlies Tony Allen, one of the best defenders in the league, fouled him and Paul put the Clippers ahead.

The Clippers had to play perfect defense and do it without fouling and sending the choking Grizzlies to the free-throw line where they could score some easy points. The Clippers swarmed the Grizzlies, who obligingly turned the ball over or took low-percentage shots and missed them. Zach Randolph actually air-balled a one-footer at one point from one side of the rim to the other, which is nearly impossible to do when you are six feet nine inches tall.

The Grizzlies not only had to turn the ball over or miss their initial shots each possession, they had to miss their follow-up shots and not gain control of the rebound so they could get a fresh 24-second clock and run out the clock or force the Clippers to foul. The odds against this happening on long errant shots that produce long rebounds that guards can gather in are, well, long. Again, perfect incompetence.

The Clippers' coach, Vinny Del Negro, had to have the perfect combination of shooters and defenders on the floor, which he did. Grizzlies' coach Lionel Hollins had to have the perfect combination of offensive players who suddenly lost their shooting touch and walked the ball up the court to allow the Clippers to set their defense, and defenders who would not molest Young in the corner. Perfection achieved.

In the final seconds, the Grizzlies' best player, Rudy Gay, had the ball with nine seconds left, which is an eternity in basketball. With a one-point lead, the Clippers could not foul him or the Grizz probably would at last reach the elusive 100-point mark and win 100-99. Gay had to miss. Which he did.

It was agonizing, shocking, awful, and, considering what had gone on previously in the fourth quarter, perfect. And we saw it, or at least those of us who didn't head for the exits early or turn off the television assuming the lead was safe even though our team was clearly in trouble saw it. It was epic and mathematically improbable. And, with any luck, we will never ever see it again.

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