O. J. Mayo couldn’t sleep a wink.
Hours after the Memphis Grizzlies squandered a 27-point second-half lead to the Los Angeles Clippers en route to a 99-98 loss in Game 1 of the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, Mayo didn’t pay much attention to what was being said or written about arguably the grandest collapse in franchise history.
Instead, the Grizzlies shooting guard took home video footage of the game and watched the fourth quarter repeatedly until he couldn’t bear to see it anymore.
“It was tough, really,” said Mayo, “watching that fourth quarter over and over again, four times.”
But watching repeats of the Grizzlies’ colossal meltdown against the Clippers, by and large, proved beneficial for Mayo, the team’s top reserve, who was dismayed so much by the loss, he went nearly two days without sleep and assumed much of the blame for Memphis having allowed a golden opportunity to slip away.
Unlike in the first game, when the Grizzlies became too relaxed after building a sizable cushion, Mayo exhibited more assertiveness in the pivotal Game 2, particularly in the game’s crucial stages.
He finished with 20 points on 6-of-16 shooting and played 24 minutes in helping the Grizzlies even their best-of-7 series against the Clippers at one game apiece. Ten of Mayo’s points came during a critical stretch in the fourth as he played all 12 minutes.
“I wanted a little bit bigger guy on (Clippers shooting guard) Mo Williams,” said Hollins, explaining his decision to play Mayo the entire fourth. “He did a good job on him. O. J. can play the one and two (guard positions), which is why Gilbert Arenas didn’t play.”
If the Grizzlies, who trail 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4 Monday night at the Staples Center, are to recapture home court advantage in what is shaping up to be an intense matchup against the Clippers, they will need more offensive contributions from their reserves.
That shouldn’t be such a hard task to accomplish, considering Memphis boasts one of the NBA’s deepest benches, with four players averaging double digits in minutes.
Mayo, a third-year pro, leads the Grizzlies’ reserves with 27 minutes per game.
Not bad for a player who, after last year’s postseason run that ended with the Grizzlies losing to Oklahoma City in seven games of the semifinals of the Western Conference playoffs, wasn’t sure if he would be back with the team this year.
After losing his starting spot to former Memphis and current New Orleans Hornets guard Xavier Henry last year, the 24-year-old Mayo was the subject of trade rumors midway through the season, in part because many believed that he and Hollins couldn’t co-exist after the coach benched him in favor of an unproven rookie.
Fortunately for Mayo, though he conceded that he handled losing his starting job in an immature way, he eventually took Hollin’s decision in stride. The midseason demotion, it seems, benefited Mayo considerably, much like the video footage of the Grizzlies’ disheartening Game 1 defeat.
That’s because Mayo witnessed his scoring average increase to 20 points per game as he helped the surging Grizzlies to a 32-22 record and wrap up the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Now that he has adjusted comfortably to his sixth man role, the Grizzlies will need more of Mayo’s offensive heroics if they are to remain in position to advance to the Western Conference semifinals for a second consecutive year.
“O. J. hit some timely shots,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul told reporters after their Game 2 loss. “Me and (Eric) Bledsoe didn’t do a good job of keeping him out of the lane. Me and Bledsoe slept on him a lot tonight.”
Fortunately for Mayo, the Grizzlies’ performance in Game 2 enabled him to catch up on much-needed rest, something that was virtually difficult to acquire after their playoff opener.
“We definitely, after Game 1, learned that our focus for the entire game was to stay focused,” Mayo said. “The great thing is that we had two days to prepare (for Game 2). I took a lot of that blame that we blew that lead.”
Which explains why he stayed awake long enough to ensure that he doesn’t repeat such costly mental mistakes.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.