LOS ANGELES – When I arrived at the Staples Center parking lot to cover Game 1 of the L.A. Clippers-Memphis Grizzlies opening round series, the attendant flashed a sunny smile and politely said, "Good evening, sir, it's $25 to park."
"I'm sorry? I'm here for the Clippers, not the Lakers," I replied in half jest while trying to fish for a bargain. But this girl was quicker than CP3, "Oh sure, you're watching the Clippers play. They are a playoffs team now and NBA title contenders. It used to be $20."
After somewhat reluctantly parting with my $25 bucks, I hiked toward Figueroa street, where I collected my NBA.co, Philippines media pass, slung it around my stiff neck before proceeding to enter the arena. Next stop was the media dining room.
I paid $7 for the buffet, but the game plan was, I muttered to myself, to eat $50 worth to make up for parking. I then applied full-court press on the food carts, loading my plate with grilled Salmon steak alongside turkey and beef burger patties which I garnished with bacon, mushrooms, glazed onions, pepper jack and cheddar cheese.
The greens did not escape my wrath as well. I took an enormous helping of iceberg lettuce, baby spinach, veggies and brown rice. Suffice it to say, I ate like an NBA power forward.
Now loaded with enough calories to run a marathon, I went straight to business mode and navigated the vast arena. It was "Fan Fest Day" at Staples and to promote solidarity, Clippers' playoffs shirts were given free to all 19,373 ticket holders that constituted the sold-out crowd.
There were all sorts of commotion, including face-painting, interactive gaming, and of course, beer drinking for the happy adults. As usual, live music blared from wall to wall.
But the best entertainment was served on the basketball floor, where the host Clippers kept the party going with a 112-91 victory over the Grizzlies.
Although the No. 5-ranked Grizzlies never tasted the lead, they kept the game close, using their twin towers of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to score easy baskets in the paint. But after Keyon Dooling's 3 put Memphis to within 77-76 with still 10:11 left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers responded with a crippling 13-3 spurt that put the Grizzlies back on their heels with only 4:29 to go.
For a team dubbed as Lob City, the Clippers didn't have many rim-rattling dunks to fire up the crowd but despite playing remarkably below the rim, L.A. still wowed their fans by running and gunning and 3-point shooting. The Clips converted 55.4 percent of their field goals and scored 46 points in the paint. They only had a modest 10 fast break points but they abused the Grizzlies off the boards, 47-23.
Chris Paul led L.A. with 23 points and seven assists on 7-for-11 shooting. His sidekick Blake Griffin, who is battling back spasms, had only 10 points and five rebounds. But the depth of the Clippers roster picked up the pieces. Eric Bledsoe had 15 while DeAndre Jordan added 14. Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford chipped in 13 apiece and Matt Barnes finished with 10.
Jerryd Bayless paced the Grizzlies with 19 markers while the combo of Gasol and Randolph tallied a combined 29 points and six rebounds. Point guard Mike Conley had 12 and five assists.
Memphis did alright for three quarters, but when the Clips dropped 37 points in the last 12 minutes, I'm not sure the Grizzlies knew what hit them.
Game 2 is Monday night. And if the Clippers play as well as they did today, I'll pay $40 for parking.