The first game of the regular season for both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies back on Halloween night was jokingly called Game 8 of their epic seven-game playoff series. Saturday night’s game between these two rivals was called Game 1 of their upcoming eight-game series.
If that is the case and these two West heavyweights face each other in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers’ 91-87 win on Saturday will give them home-court advantage. More than that, if last season and the four games they played this season are any indication, we could be in store for another classic playoff series in a couple of weeks.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
That’s their D.J.
The ceiling for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is high. That’s one of the biggest reasons that his current contract (four years, $43 million) is as high as that ceiling. Unfortunately for Jordan and the Clippers, Jordan hasn’t come close to that ceiling. He will often show glimpses of it, occasionally grazing it and teasing fans and coaches alike. Luckily for the Clippers, Saturday was one of those games. In perhaps the biggest regular-season game of the season for the Clippers, Jordan played one of his best games. He scored 10 points to open the game in the first quarter and had a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds at the half. Jordan finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but his mere presence on the court in the fourth quarter was a welcome sight as he had two key blocks at the end of the game.
The old man
Grant Hill, 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, and he’s also one of the most popular players in the Clippers locker room; younger teammates call him everything from “young fella” to “grandpa.” Hill, however, hadn’t seen much of the court recently. He hadn’t played in the previous five games before Saturday and only saw scarce action in three of the previous 13 games. Hill, who has been dealing with various injuries, simply fell out of the rotation in what he believes is the final season of his career. He might have worked his way back in after Saturday’s game. With Caron Butler playing only nine minutes and being sidelined for the rest of the game with a sore right knee, Hill was forced into action and delivered. With the Clippers trailing 77-72, Hill hit a 3-pointer and putback to tie the game. He also mixed in two blocks and a rebound to help spark a 14-0 run by the Clippers. It was an incredible performance by a player who not only hadn’t seen the court in two weeks but didn’t enter the game until the end of the third quarter. Hill was only part of a stellar night by the Clippers bench, which put up 40 points and helped the team snap the Grizzlies’ 13-game home winning streak and hand them their first loss in Memphis since Feb. 5.
While the Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets were surging after the NBA All-Star break and compiling two of the top four records in the league, the Clippers were languishing around the .500 mark and unable to string consecutive wins together. That’s a big reason why they were staring at the possibility of opening the playoffs on the road despite putting together the best season in team history and having the NBA's best first-half record. The Clippers have finally turned the corner, however, having won five straight games for the first time since their 17-game win streak in December and controlling their own destiny for home court in the first round. If they beat Portland and Sacramento to close out the season, they will have home court against the Grizzlies as the four-seed. If the Nuggets lose one of their final three games and the Clippers win out, the Clippers would have home court as the three-seed in a possible matchup against the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets.