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Friday, May 3, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Grizzlies 118, Clippers 105

By Arash Markazi

The greatest season in Los Angeles Clippers franchise history wasn't supposed to end this way.

A season in which the Clippers won a club-record 56 games, 17 straight, their first division title and swept the Los Angeles Lakers ended with a far too familiar early vacation it seemed this team was destined to avoid.

After jumping out to the best record in the NBA through the first half of the season, the Clippers' season wasn't supposed to be over just six games into the playoffs.

It wasn't supposed to end with a first-round exit after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies.

It wasn't supposed to end with four straight losses to a Grizzlies team they had beaten six of seven times and three straight in Memphis.

It wasn't supposed to end with a battered Blake Griffin sitting on the bench and an ejected Chris Paul sitting in the locker room watching their season slip away earlier than it did a season ago.

But that's exactly what happened as the Grizzlies beat the Clippers 118-105 Friday night to eliminate L.A. in six games and advance to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. The loss not only eliminated the Clippers from the playoffs but likely set in motion a series of changes the team will undergo in the offseason.

How it happened: The Clippers were already having a hard time defending Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph when Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were at full strength. With Griffin limited because of a high ankle sprain that limited him to just 14 minutes off the bench, it was hard to contain the Grizzlies' big-man duo. They combined for 33 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. It wasn't their best game together, but it also didn't have to be as Tony Allen stepped up and scored 19 points and Mike Conley had 23 points.

What it means: Not even the greatest season in Clippers history was enough to get them into the conference finals for the first time. In fact, it wasn't even enough to get them out of the first round. The Clippers looked destined to face an Oklahoma City team playing without Russell Westbrook for a chance to play in the conference finals. Instead, they are forced to go back to the drawing board after taking a step back.

Hits: One of the biggest surprises for the Clippers this season has been Matt Barnes, who was signed for the veteran's minimum before the start of training camp at the urging of Paul, who played with him during a few pickup games. Barnes responded with a career season and one of the best games of his career Friday night. He had 30 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes off the bench for the Clippers and kept them in the game until the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies pulled away.

Misses: When the Clippers entered the playoffs, many pointed to the health of Chauncey Billups, who was lost midway through last season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. Billups, however, was a nonfactor in the Clippers' final four losses and picked up three fouls in about three minutes. He had four points on 1-of-3 shooting Friday. He had three points in Game 5 and had zero points in Game 4. Not exactly the kind of performances the Clippers were waiting for all season from "Mr. Big Shot."

Stat of the game: There are plenty of stats that stand out, but the ones that will be talked about for days are the whopping 59 personal fouls, seven technical fouls and two ejections (Paul and Randolph). Referees are supposed to let the players decide games in the playoffs, but official Joey Crawford made this one about himself and looked well on his way to ejecting everyone on the court by the end of the game.

Up next: Friday's game was the biggest in Clippers history because of what the fallout would be if they lost. Now that they have lost, the Clippers begin an offseason in which their coach (Vinny Del Negro), general manager (Gary Sacks) and franchise player (Paul) are all free agents. Now, who stays and who goes will depend largely on what Paul wants to do and if he thinks the Clippers can eventually become a championship team.