LOS ANGELES — The first game was a blowout and the second was won on a buzzer-beater, but both were wins for the Los Angeles Clippers, and that means they hold a 2-0 series advantage over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference NBA playoffs.
It’s a good omen for the Clippers, who have been up 2-0 in a playoff series only one other time in franchise history. That time, in 2006, they went on to defeat the Denver Nuggets 4-1. A 2-0 series lead also holds a historical advantage: In NBA playoff history, a team has lost a series only 15 times after winning the first two.
Those things mean little to the Clippers, however. Nobody in their locker room was satisfied after Chris Paul’s buzzer-beating bank shot gave L.A. a 93-91 victory in Game 2 at Staples Center.
“All we did was protect our home court,” Vinny Del Negro said. “You have to win four games. We did what we were supposed to do. We know we’re going to have to play better in Memphis.”
It would be difficult to play better than Paul did down the stretch. He scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and was the only Clippers player to score in the final 3:46 of the game. The Clippers held a 12-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play and let the Grizzlies get back in to tie the game. L.A. was able to get away with that at home, but trying that on the road would be playing with fire.
“Each game is a game in itself,” Paul said. “You don’t carry over points, possessions, foul trouble or anything like that. We know that they’ll be at home in front of their fans with a lot of energy and they feel like they need to win two games at home now.”
The Clippers don’t need to look too far in the past to know how important it is to protect home-court advantage. Last year, Memphis had home-court advantage against the Clippers, but L.A. won Game 1 in Memphis and eventually won the series in seven games -- with Game 7 also in Memphis.
Those aren’t the only good memories the Clippers have of Memphis, either. Less than two weeks ago, the Clippers went into FedEx Forum with home-court advantage in this series on the line and won 91-87.
“I have complete confidence with our team on the road, especially,” Del Negro said. “We know what we’re in for, but that’s what it’s all about. The best part is the competition and challenging yourself to be better. I’m going to challenge this group to prepare the right way and have the right mindset going in.”
Lately, the Clippers have had a pretty good mindset. The win Monday was their ninth in a row overall, going back to the regular season. A streak like that only serves to boost the confidence level for the players. They showed that Saturday in their 112-91 dismantling of the Grizzlies, and Paul’s game-winner Monday was another shot in the arm.
“Every game in the playoffs is must-win,” forward Lamar Odom said. “It’s all about finishing the season strong. You can only do that with wins. It’s all about doing whatever it takes. We got another game, another inch, took another step toward our goal.”
Going up 2-0 in the series will make the plane ride across the country a much better one for the Clippers.
“In the playoffs it’s very important,” Odom said. “Mentally, it takes a little pressure off you, but at the same time we don’t want to go back there and just -- we want to push them to the limit and even play better than we played tonight.”
Odom has been around long enough to know that the series is far from over. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins can only hope so. He was preaching optimism despite the deficit his team is facing as it heads back home.
“We’ve got to go home and hold serve,” Hollins said. “That’s what they did. We almost got one here. It’s not doom and gloom. It was just a tough, hard-fought battle, and we’ve got to go home, and there are going to be two hard-fought battles there. And we’ve got to come away with two of them.”
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley expects the Memphis crowd to come out in full force. The fact that the team is down 2-0 is enough of a rallying cry, but it means even more that the Clippers are coming to town because of all the big wins L.A. has had in Memphis over the past year.
“When the Clippers come to town it’s obviously a different type of crowd because we have a history with them,” Conley said. “We’ve played a bunch of good games with them. We expect it to be loud and crazy and hopefully we can take care of that business at home.”
The Clippers aren’t exactly in a must-win situation on the road. They can merely win all of their home games and still win the series, but that’s not a thought that is crossing their heads as they head to Memphis.
“We’ve got to go down to Memphis and try to steal a game,” Paul said. “We’ve got to be greedy.”