LOS ANGELES -- It's not that I don't appreciate Chris Paul's performances in the clutch. It's just that they've come to be like Southern California sunsets: worth pausing to admire, but something we've seen before and will see again. He's been such a great closer that he's even closed the argument about best closer in the league.
It's the Reggie Evans stuff that keeps grabbing my attention about these Clippers, more than Paul's deft maneuvers and cold-blooded shots, or Blake Griffin's soaring dunks. It could be because you know Paul's going to take the shot with the game on the line. And there's always that moment of anticipation, a chance to gather your breath and drop your jaw, when Paul throws a lob to Griffin or Griffin gets an angle to the open basket.
The Reggie Evans moments come out of nowhere. Like the time he took a feed from Paul and drove for a layup near the end of the Clippers' incredible comeback in Game 1, covering more ground on that single play than in all of his baskets throughout the season combined. And the randomness of the cry for help from a Clippers fan after the Memphis Grizzlies got off to a strong start in the third quarter of Game 4 on Monday night and chopped away the Clippers' lead: "Put Reggie in!"
Reggie Evans, the guy who was undrafted coming out of Iowa in 2002 and unsigned when training camps opened in December, being called upon as a savior. The only thing more unlikely is that he's lived up to it.
He made an impact at a critical juncture of Game 4 by doing what he does best, doing what it often seems he does exclusively: grabbing a rebound. With 3:46 remaining in overtime, Griffin missed a free throw but Evans grabbed the rebound, setting up Paul for a jump shot that extended the Clippers' lead to three points. They were the Clippers' first second-chance points of the game.
"I think they kind of relaxed and felt like, since we're at the line, we're not going to be as aggressive and stuff like that," Evans said. "I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. That's what I did."
The Clippers were the quickest to give him a chance in the chaos of December, when teams scrambled to put their rosters together after the lockout. Evans had an ankle injury that wound up keeping him out of the first five games of the season, but the Clippers knew they were deficient at rebounding and could use his help there.
He grabs about 2.5 rebounds for every point he scores, on average. In Game 4 it was 4:1. Eight rebounds, two points.
When Evans grabs offensive rebounds he's usually the closest man in the arena to the basket, yet it's as if the thought of shooting doesn't even occur to him. He'll immediately do the first thing they tell big men not to do and bring the ball down low. Then, with his back to the basket, he'll pass.
He admits that he wasn't even looking to shoot on that big basket in Game 1, but the Memphis defenders stuck with Griffin and left the lane open for him.
"If he was open, I would have passed it to him," Evans said.
"I ain't really thinking about scoring. I'm really not. Really not."
Leave that to the other guys. He doesn't mind if they get the glory -- or the money. With a salary of $854,000 this season he was the only one-comma Clipper who played Monday.
"We get paid," Evans said. "That's not a big-time concern, for money."
By not obsessing over the cash, he's gotten everything else pro athletes cherish: playing time, accolades and winning.
His 8.3 rebounds per game lead the Clippers in the playoffs. Unofficially, he leads the Clippers in pushing and shoving Memphis big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Once, he simultaneously held Randolph down with one arm and fouled Gasol to prevent a layup with the other.
"For me it really doesn't matter getting hammered," Evans said. "Because I like to hammer back."
"That's what wins games," said Kenyon Martin, the Clippers' other tough guy. " A lot of people see the alley-oops and all that stuff, but [it's] the tough-nosed stuff that guys have to go through in order to grit and grind the game out."
It was only fitting that the game ended with Evans rebounding a missed Memphis shot that rendered the Clippers' 101-97 victory official.
Evans held the ball over his head while his teammates gathered and celebrated. Then he tossed it to official James Capers.
Getting the ball is all that matters to Evans. He couldn't care less about keeping it.