Reggie Evans. Kenyon Martin. Nick Young. Eric Bledsoe. Mo Williams.
The five-man bench unit that tilted the first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies then won it for the Clippers in Game 7.
"Our bench is the MVP of this series," starting shooting guard Randy Foye said. "Even when we [starters] came out played well, they still came out and continued to change the tempo with Eric Bledsoe, Mo Williams making shots, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans playing defense and rebounding. Our bench won this series for us."
There were injuries such as Bledsoe's torn meniscus, which kept him out for more than a month and had him hobbled for a few weeks more, and Williams' sprained toe that cost him 12 games; personnel changes like the additions of Martin in early February and Young at the trade deadline in March; and lineup fluctuations that saw Evans' minutes range from 3-14 over the last month of the regular season.
In 66 games, they averaged 25.3 points (26th in the NBA). And while Williams led the team in points (13.2) and minutes (28.3) off the bench, there were times when the unit as a whole struggled with consistency. It was something Williams talked about after the Clippers knocked off the Grizzlies, 82-72, Sunday to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
"One thing we haven't done is do it on the same day, so I said, 'We've gotta do it together today.' And we did," Williams said. "Everyone off the bench came in and played well. We were able to put it together the same day."
In Game 7, with the odds and injuries seemingly piled against the Clippers, the "Goon Squad" won the battle of the benches 41-11. They scored 25 of the final 27 points. They were tough, they were relentless, and they beat the Grizzlies at their own game.
"You've got the Eric Bledsoe's of the world and the Kenyon Martin's and the Mo Williams' and Nick Young's coming in having huge impact," said Memphis guard Tony Allen, who was the archetype for the Grizzlies' 'Grit and Grind' motif. "They just played harder than us. And obviously, in a 48-minute game, they wanted it more than we did because they obviously beat us in the rebounding area. They just outworked us. I think that was pretty much the game."
And that's how Evans plays, working for rebounds, playing physical defense, and causing mischief. He somewhat embodies the group, in that he's considered imperfect by the so-called basketball world. Too one dimensional, perhaps. Just like Young was called too selfish, Martin too old, Bledsoe too out of control, and Williams too small to play off the ball.
With all five of them playing a vital role, the Clippers' bench chewed up the Grizzlies for much of the series.
Evans grabbed 10 or more rebounds three times, averaging 8.7 in seven games. And besides agitating Zach Randolph, he also converted the go-ahead layup in Game 1 and made a pair of free throws in the final two minutes to keep the Clippers close in Game 6.
In Games 1, 6, and 7 it was Bledsoe, who had 31 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds between the three games.
Blake Griffin said he thought the athletic point guard made a significant impact as the series wore on. "The best part about it is he's embraced his role," Griffin said following Game 7. "He comes in off the bench and he's like instant hustle, instant speed. He's just all over the place and it's fun to watch."
Bledsoe's performance showed why Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey fought so hard to keep him out of the package that sent three players to New Orleans in exchange for superstar Chris Paul in December. Moving forward, his quickness and athleticism could be part of the remedy to slowing down Spurs All-Star Tony Parker in round two.
"[Bledsoe's] that pit bull out there," said Young, who along with Martin represented the bench at the postgame dais on Sunday. "Hardnosed, driving, strong little man, and he gets the job done out there. You just need that type of player on the court with you."
The 6-foot-7 Young, acquired on March 15 in a three-team trade with Washington and Denver, certainly had his share of moments as well.
The L.A. native made three consecutive 3-pointers in the team's historic Game 1 comeback. And on Sunday, he was back in Memphis causing a slight fit of deja vu amongst the crowd with a three in front of the Grizzlies bench and a baseline jumper on two of the first three possessions of the fourth quarter.
"Nick hit tough shots," Evans said. "And one thing about Nick, there's not a shot that's tough for him. Because some of the shots he hit, he hit them in Washington. No matter if he was throwing the ball from behind his head, there's no shot that's difficult for him because he just loves to shoot the ball."
Williams gives the Clippers another reserve who can fill it up. In a way, he's like having a sixth starter, considering he was a 2010 All-Star point guard for the Cavaliers. He could also be considered the charter member of the "Goon Squad." Months before Young and Martin arrived, Williams was looked at as the only scoring option off the bench. He had a three-game stretch in January scoring 25 points or more and shot 38.9% from 3-point range in the regular season.
If Williams is the top scorer, Young is hot-shooting wildcard, Evans is the rebounding machine, and Bledsoe is the sparkplug, then Martin is the defensive ace.
Against Memphis he guarded everyone from O.J. Mayo to Marc Gasol, and stifled Rudy Gay on the final play in Game 1. When the sense of urgency in the series ramped up, the team relied on Martin's now 96 games of postseason experience to lead the way.
In the final two games of the series, Martin compiled back-to-back double-digit scoring games and in the finale he recorded his first double-double since April 27, 2011 when as a member of the Nuggets he scored 14 points with 10 rebounds in a first-round elimination game against Oklahoma City.
"I've been in these situations before," Martin said. "I've scored a lot of points in this league, a lot of playoff points. I think my playoff average is better than my regular season average. Just being who I am. I'm not afraid of the moment. Just knowing who I am, and knowing my ability and believing in it. Just attacking, that's what it's all about. Not letting up, not getting caught up in the moment just going out and playing basketball."
On Sunday afternoon as Bledsoe stood in front of his locker, he was asked about his first playoff experience. He grinned and instead talked about the bench as a whole.
"We just do what we do," he said. "We just come in make stops and just run. We've got one good bench."
The rest of the "Goon Squad" would certainly agree.
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