NBA Playoffs: First Round Is Action Packed

Teams in the NBA playoff have begun their quest to be the champion. The headline story of the weekend: Chicago superstar Derrick Rose is out with a torn knee ligament.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. We're thinking a lot of NBA fans went to bed before the end of last night's game one of the first round playoff series between the L.A. Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, which is understandable. The clock was ticking toward midnight on the East Coast. Memphis was cruising up 24, eight minutes left on the game clock. And to those fans who went to bed, we say good morning, glad you got your rest and sorry you missed one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman stayed up. And he's with us now.

Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what happened here? How did the Clippers end up on top?

GOLDMAN: The kind of thing that turns coaches faces red, from youth leagues to the NBA. The Memphis Grizzlies started playing not to lose. They got conservative on offense. They didn't put away the Clippers. And at the same time, the Clippers hung in there, at least the players did.

Point guard Chris Paul says he begged his coach to put him in the fourth quarter, despite being way behind. And it worked. With Paul running the show, the Clippers kept playing aggressive defense, pushed the pace. They got big contributions from several players and they ended up winning 99-98. And it tied an NBA playoff record for the biggest deficit overcome after three quarters - 21 points. And Memphis center Marc Gasol called it heartbreaking.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand what you're saying. You're saying that the Clippers point guard would've been just put on the bench to make sure nothing happened to him, because the game seemed hopeless from the Clippers point of new?

GOLDMAN: Yep.

INSKEEP: And he just ended up getting out there and then he played, and there you go.

GOLDMAN: Put me in coach.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: It's like the end of "Hoosiers." Coach I can make it. I can make it. OK. So unbelievable win, but it is just one win in a seven game series. Could this change the entire series, do you think?

GOLDMAN: You know, the Grizzlies are telling themselves there's still a long way to go, and that is very true, you know. But for L.A., it's a really nice thing to tuck in your back pocket. No matter how far you're down you can come back and win. One bad note for the Clippers, though, starting small forward, Caron Butler, broke his left hand. We don't know how long he's out. That could hurt L.A.

INSKEEP: And, of course, you have more than one injury to talk about here, because over the weekend Chicago's superstar, Derrick Rose, was out with a torn knee ligament. How does that alter the playoffs?

GOLDMAN: Going into the playoffs, Las Vegas odds had the Bulls as the second favorite team to win the NBA title after Miami. Now, after the injury, the Bulls are fourth in line. And, Steve, that may be generous. There is a feeling that the Bulls still can win their first round series versus Philadelphia. There's a lot of talk about how Rose missed so much time during the regular season due to injury. And the Bulls learned how to win without him. They were 18-9 in the games that he missed.

But the playoffs are different. A team needs its star player, because the action is so intense, you need the guys who regularly rise to the occasion. And there very likely will be an emotional charge that goes through the Bulls because of Rose's injury. They'll unify and, you know, now think of themselves more as an underdog. But the question is how far can that mindset take them against better and better competition as the playoffs go on.

INSKEEP: And briefly, what else caught your eye in the playoffs over the weekend, Tom?

GOLDMAN: Well, the Boston Celtics may be in trouble. They lost game one to an Atlanta team that's been very tough in the first round of the playoffs in recent years. Plus their point guard Rajon Rondo may be suspended. He bumped a referee, and if the league determines it was an intentional thing he'll sit out a game.

And then I think the other thing is the San Antonio Spurs look as good as advertised. A lot of people credit Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for resting his old veterans Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili during the season, because they looked like they had visited the fountain of youth in their 15 point game one win over Utah. They had fresh springy legs. They looked great.

INSKEEP: OK. And, again, the top story, the Clippers beating Memphis 99-98, coming from 24 points behind, is that right, Tom Goldman?

GOLDMAN: Twenty-seven at one point.

INSKEEP: Twenty-seven at one point. NPR's Tom Goldman.

Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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