Los Angeles Clippers: Memphis Grizzlies
ATLANTA -- Doc Rivers wasn’t with the Los Angeles Clippers last season when they lost four straight games in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies.
That minor detail, however, has never stopped him from saying "we" when talking about last season’s team and last season’s shortcomings in the playoffs.
"I own them. They're mine now. I adopted them," Rivers said. "The minute I said I'm the Clippers' coach, any problems that we had are my problems."
One of the biggest problems facing the Clippers last season, and this season, are the Memphis Grizzlies. Not only did they defeat the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs last season, but they beat them in the first meeting this season at Staples Center.
"Forget last year," Rivers said. "Last year shouldn’t matter to us anymore. They beat us at our place. That’s what should matter. If we’re thinking about last year, we’re already wrong. We should think that they walked into our building and beat our butts. We should come in and want to play. That doesn’t mean you win, but we should come in ready to play."
Coming in ready to play has been easier said than done for the Clippers this season. They’ve pointed to apathy and a lack of energy after many of their losses. Neither should be a factor in Memphis. Then again, after losing two straight games, the Clippers seemed more interested in getting a win, regardless of the opponent, and not suffering their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"[Last season] has absolutely nothing to do with it," Chris Paul said. "We just want to win, regardless of who it is or where it is."
Blake Griffin said he wasn’t even aware Thursday would be his first time back in Memphis since last season’s playoff loss until he was asked about it Wednesday night.
"We’ve played there so many times," Griffin said. "That hadn’t even crossed my mind at all. It’s an important game for us, especially after we’ve dropped two games in a row."
These are the games Griffin can take a sledgehammer to the growing stereotypes about his toughness and skill set and reshape an image that has slowly gone Hollywood.
For much of the Los Angeles Clippers' 106-102 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Griffin was doing just that, but the game played out like the previous four games of their first-round playoff series last season: with the Clippers and Griffin finishing up on the short end of the stick.
Like with most things that go wrong with the Clippers, Griffin will get the brunt of the blame, especially on a night when Zach Randolph had 26 points and 15 rebounds and Marc Gasol had 23 points and nine rebounds.
Griffin’s 23 points and 11 rebounds will likely get lost in the mix, but they shouldn’t.
Considering the number of critics Griffin has, it’s not hard to make the argument that Griffin might be the most underrated player in the NBA right now.
Yes, you read that right.
How can the player you probably think is the most overrated player in the league actually be the most underrated? Well, it’s easy. When one of the league’s rising stars gets universally labeled as a one-dimensional player whose only redeemable qualities are highlight dunks and funny commercials, it’s easy to forget that Griffin is actually so much more.
He’s one of the most gifted big men in the game and has yet to even touch his potential, despite some who think he already reached it after his third All-Star season.
“What is he, 24 [years old]? He’s going to keep getting better,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I have to remind myself: Blake is really young. I think we all forget that. I know I do at times. I’m on him pretty hard. I ask a lot out of him. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many years you’re in the league as it does your maturity, and it happens at certain ages. I just think he’s going to keep getting better and better.”
Before Monday's game, Griffin was named the Western Conference player of the week after averaging 25.7 points (third best in the conference), 11.3 rebounds (ninth in the conference), 4.7 assists and 1.0 steals in a 3-0 week for the Clippers.
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers sold out a franchise record 100th consecutive game Monday night, and the 19,060 who showed up saw the Clippers lose to the Memphis Grizzlies 106-102.
It was the Clippers' and Grizzlies' first meeting of the season and a rematch of teams that have played each other in the past two playoffs, with the Clippers and Grizzlies each winning a series.
Monday’s game played out like the final four games of the 2013 opening-round series, with the Grizzlies outlasting the Clippers and showing them that they still have a ways to go before being considering serious contenders.
How it happened: The Clippers continually made it a close game, tying the score and going up by a basket but never took more than a two-point lead until the Grizzlies finally opened up a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter and sealed the win. Once again, the frontcourt tandem of Zach Randolph (26 points and 15 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (23 points and nine rebounds) was too much for the Clippers.
What it means: After thinking about the way last season ended, the Clippers had circled this game on their calendars six months ago, but outside the two coaches and a few personnel moves, the result was the same as the postseason series. The Clippers know they will have to figure out a way to beat Memphis if they hope to improve upon last season’s disappointing finish.
Hits: Chris Paul tied Magic Johnson’s record with his 11th consecutive double-double to start the season. He finished with 18 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds. He finished one rebound shy of recording his 12th career triple-double in the regular season.
Blake Griffin had 23 points and 11 rebounds, recording his eighth double-double in the past 10 games. Earlier in the day, he was named the Western Conference player of the week.
Misses: Jared Dudley is a solid role player but has struggled of late in the Clippers starting lineup. He hit three of his four shots but finished with just six points, zero rebounds and one assist in 23 minutes. Jamal Crawford struggled with his shot, hitting 3-of-11 and making only two of his six 3-point attempts.
Stat of the game: 100. Not only is that the number of consecutive sellouts for the Clippers, but it’s also a number their opponents most always surpass. The Clippers are giving up 105.7 points per game, third worst in the league.
Up next: The Clippers play at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday in the first of a tough road back-to-back against Minnesota and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers beat the Timberwolves 109-107 at Staples Center last week, escaping in the final moments after Kevin Love's last-second tip-in rimmed out.
Back in March, during the height of the 2013 playoff chase, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies were jockeying for the No. 3 seed in the West. The two teams already loathed one another, their feelings dating to their seven-game series in spring 2012. Things often can get stale in an NBA arena by mid-March, but when the Clippers and Grizzlies hooked up at Staples Center, the buzz was electric.
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.
LOS ANGELES -- The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 103-93 Tuesday night at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series of the Western Conference playoffs. It was the third consecutive victory for the Grizzlies and the first road win in the series for either team.
Here's a quick breakdown.
How it happened: The Grizzlies played a tough, physical game and outshined a virtuoso performance by Clippers guard Chris Paul, who had 35 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Clippers, who played much of the second half without injured All-Star forward Blake Griffin (sprained ankle) had no answer for the inside-outside combination of Memphis forward Zach Randolph and guard Mike Conley. Those two combined for 45 points, while center Marc Gasol was unstoppable for stretches at a time and added 21 points and eight rebounds.
Gasol scored six points during an 11-0 Memphis run in the third quarter and routinely got past a wounded Griffin. A few minutes later, Griffin left the game with the Clippers trailing 71-60. He did not return.
Paul and Jamal Crawford made back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Clippers a 40-38 lead with 5:34 left in the first half, but the Clippers went through a bad stretch that turned momentum in favor of the Grizzlies. Memphis went on a 16-5 run over the next 4:46 -- a stretch that included three L.A. turnovers and fouls Nos. 2 and 3 on Griffin -- and took a 54-45 lead.
Paul, however, kept the game from getting out of reach with a pair of layups and a late 3-pointer that cut the Memphis lead to 54-48 at halftime.
Turning point: The Clippers were within two points with 9:55 to play in the third quarter, but Memphis went on an 11-0 run to take a 65-52 lead with 6:28 left in the third. It was the first double-digit lead for either team, and the Grizzlies did not trail again after that.
Player of the game: Randolph scored 10 of his 25 points in the final 10 minutes, 5 seconds of the game, seemingly singlehandedly stemming any chance the Clippers could make a run. The Clippers had cut the Memphis lead to 75-71 with 10:23 to play, but Randolph scored four points during a 6-2 Grizzlies run that kept the Clippers at arm’s length. He scored six more points during a three-minute stretch later in the fourth that helped the Grizzlies maintain a comfortable lead at 89-80. He also had 11 rebounds -- five on the offensive glass.
What it means: Memphis, which left L.A. last week down 2-0 in the series, is one win away from advancing to the second round. Only 15 teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a series in NBA playoff history. The Clippers will need to regroup and find some of the magic that helped them win last season’s series against Memphis.
What’s next: The series will resume Friday in Memphis. Game 7, if necessary, will be Sunday at Staples Center.
Combining for 48 points and 22 rebounds in a 21-point victory is impressive enough, but the Memphis duo's impact against the Los Angeles Clippers isn't fully captured by those numbers since the series shifted to Memphis for Games 3 and 4.
The pushing and shoving under the basket, hard screens, constant battling for position, high-low passes and effective use of their massive frames are just some of the things that make them arguably the best big-man tandem in the NBA.
While Randolph rode the momentum from his breakout performance in Game 3 to another monster outing in Game 4, Gasol showed his first glimpses of offensive dominance all series, asserting himself in the second half after a halftime speech from head coach Lionel Hollins.
A focal point of the Grizzlies’ offensive attack is the high-low play between Gasol and Randolph. With Gasol stationed at the high post, capable of shooting or passing over his defender, and Randolph down low, outmuscling his opponent for position, it’s almost impossible to stop.
The Grizzlies often initiate the movement by running a decoy action to set up either Gasol or Randolph in scoring position later in the possession.
In one instance midway through the second quarter, Mike Conley and Gasol ran a basic pick-and-roll on the left wing. As Conley drove left and evaded the Clippers’ ensuing trap, he got into the paint and kicked the ball back out to Randolph at the top of the key.
Randolph surveyed the floor, and then made an entry pass to Gasol at the left elbow. As Randolph’s defender, Ronny Turiaf, started recovering back to him after helping in the lane to stop Conley’s penetration, Randolph made a nimble backdoor cut and was fed by Gasol for a layup to extend the Grizzlies’ lead to 40-35.
The give-and-go was beautiful, the type of play you’d see from two quick guards, not a pair of lumbering big men.
"Their synergy is pretty amazing,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul told reporters after Game 4. "Z-Bo on the inside and big fella Marc -- that's another guard the way he passes the ball and shoots the ball.”
Whether it’s big-to-big screens along the baseline to create mismatches inside or tag-teaming the offensive boards, Gasol and Randolph have had their way with the Clippers’ big men. Almost no one can guard Randolph one-on-one in the paint, and Gasol’s 7-foot-1 frame allows him to release his grounded jumper whenever he chooses.
Behind the play of their bigs, the Grizzlies dominated the glass (90-61), points in the paint (86-64), and second-chance points (44-6) in Memphis, en route to two double-digit wins and a 2-2 series tie.
To have even remotely a chance of gaining back the edge in the series, the Clippers will need to double-team down low early and often, rotate decisively, and match the Grizzlies’ physicality and intensity.
The Clippers entered Memphis hoping to steal a game and then wrap up the series in L.A. in Game 5. Now, they’re guaranteed a return to FedEx Forum -- their personal house of horrors this postseason -- with their season potentially on the line.
With the history these two teams have, there are no surprises. Each team knows what the other wants to do. The Clippers are well are of the adjustments they need to make, and the type of energy and attention to detail required to handle Memphis’ frontline. Now it’s just a matter of doing it for 48 minutes.
As the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their blowout win in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, there was a simple message written on the dry-erase board in the locker room:
"9 min. left 77-76. End game on 35-15 run!"
It was the kind of closeout effort that championship teams need in the playoffs. Since that game, however, the Clippers have not done a good job of closing out games at all.
The Grizzlies have outscored the Clippers in the fourth quarter of every game since then, and Saturday’s 104-83 loss was the worst performance yet. The game was tied 62-62 with 3:20 left in the third quarter before the Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 42-21 the rest of the way. The Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 33-16 in the fourth quarter and over the past three games have outscored the Clippers 77-54 in the final period.
How it happened: Much like in Game 3, the Grizzlies' big man tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol was just too much for the Clippers. Randolph had 24 points and nine rebounds while Gasol, the defensive player of the year, had 24 points and 13 rebounds. The tandem’s combined 48 points and 22 rebounds were greater than the Clippers’ starters combined (40 points, 17 rebounds). In fact, Randolph and Gasol almost had as many rebounds as the entire Clippers team (28).
What it means: Despite playing a close game through three quarters, the final box score ended up looking as lopsided as the final score. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Clippers (45 to 28), had more points in the paint (46 to 38), had more second-chance points (22 to 2) and shot more free throws (29 to 17). The lopsided numbers were almost identical to the Game 3 numbers, which has to be cause for concern for L.A. after the team spent the past two days working to reverse these trends. The most glaring similarities were rebounding (45 to 33 in Game 3) and second-chance points (22 to 2 in Game 3). If the Clippers can’t change this in Los Angeles, it’s going to be hard to change the final score.
Hits: If the Clippers can hang their hat on one thing, it’s that Chris Paul responded to one of his worst playoff games ever with a solid performance. He had 19 points, six assists and just one turnover after having just eight points and five turnovers in Game 3. The problem is Paul had 14 points and five assists in the first half, which means he didn’t do much in the second half. Paul had just one point, one assist and one turnover in the fourth quarter before being taken out with the game out of hand.
Misses: Every one of the Grizzlies’ starters scored double-digit points, with two having 15 points and two more having 24 points. On the flip side, two of the Clippers’ starters went scoreless (Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler), while another (DeAndre Jordan) had only two points. It’s going to be hard for the Clippers to win many games -- on the road no less -- when three of their five starters are combing for two points, five rebounds and one assist.
Stat of the game: There are plenty of stats that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro will circle on his final box score with a red pen, but the two big ones will be the discrepancies in rebounding and second-chance points. The Clippers don’t have a chance if those two numbers continue to be that lopsided.
Up next: The goal for the Clippers coming into these two games in Memphis was stealing one game and putting themselves in position to close the series out in Game 5 in Los Angeles. After losing back-to-back games for the first time since March, the Clippers now need to win Game 5 at Staples Center to avoid giving the Grizzlies an opportunity to close the series out in Memphis in Game 6.
They lost the rebounding battle (45 to 33), turned the ball over 18 times, were outscored in the paint (40-26), and had their worst shooting performance -- 38.8 percent -- since Feb. 1 in Toronto.
The most telling stat, however, was this: Chris Paul had more turnovers (5) than assists (4) or made field goals (4).
After failing to properly execute their pick-and-roll defense against Paul in Games 1 and 2, the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to restrict his space and force him to the left sideline in Game 3, instead of letting him to go to the middle of the floor.
The main adjustment came from the Grizzlies’ big men, who dropped back and station themselves at the free-throw line, preventing Paul from penetrating but also not giving him enough room to get a clean shot off.
With 5:40 remaining in the game, and the Clippers trailing 81-71, Paul dribbled up the left sideline while being hounded by defensive ace Tony Allen, and stopped at the left wing to initiate a side pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin.
As Zach Randolph came up to trap him, Paul split the two defenders and darted towards the paint. He then crossed over from left to right, but didn’t get far, as Allen quickly swiped the ball away from behind. Marc Gasol recovered the loose ball, and the Grizzlies went on an 8-2 run, effectively putting the game out of reach at 89-73.
The sight of Paul being stripped in a crucial juncture, as uncommon as it is, was typical of his performance on the night. He simply had no answer for the Grizzlies’ defense down the stretch. His next two pick-and-roll possessions resulted in an airball 3-pointer and an offensive foul. Four of Paul’s five turnovers came out of pick-and-roll plays.
“We made a big point of emphasis on the pick-and-roll and how our bigs were down low,” Allen told the Memphis Flyer after the game. “They had their antennas on when he was coming off of it. We tried not to let him go to the right as much as he wanted to. That's his strong hand. He does a lot of damage that way.”
In Game 3, the Clippers averaged .53 points per play (PPP) when they ran a pick-and-roll in which the ball-handler scored, got fouled or turned the ball over. For comparison, they scored 1.45 PPP in Game 1 and 1.13 PPP in Game 2 on the same possessions. During the regular season they averaged .83 PPP in those situations, which ranked third in the NBA.
Paul has had off shooting nights before, but he rarely fails to approach double-digit assists, and his four assists tied the fewest he’s had all season when playing at least 30 minutes in a game.
“It's uncharacteristic of us, especially me,” Paul told reporters after the game.
The Grizzlies found a defensive strategy that worked against Paul in Game 3. But seven-game series are all about game-to-game adjustments, so now it’s up to the Clippers to figure out with ways to free up Paul so he can become effective again.
Statistics used in this post are from ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports.com.
If they were coaching in the East this season, their teams would be tied for the second-best record in the conference.
As it is, Del Negro and Hollins find each other facing off again in the first round of the playoffs despite winning 56 games this season, and there may be something more than a second-round date with the Oklahoma City Thunder on the line for both coaches.
Both historically-down franchises have taken a wait-and-see approach to the futures of the most successful coaches they’ve ever had.
It's a reality that both Del Negro and Hollins came to grips with before the season began, and one they know they can't change until the season is over, so they don't spend much time worrying about it.
"Players win games, coaches lose games," Del Negro said. "I can't control those things. What I control is the preparation of the team. All those things will be answered at the end of the season. I believe in what we've done here, I believe my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job, and I've had great support from ownership and [the] front office ... and everybody to try to put the best team out there."
By name, Del Negro mentioned Gary Sacks, vice president of basketball operations; Eric Miller, director of basketball administration and Andy Roeser, team president.
The problem is Sacks -- who is also not signed past this season -- Roeser and Miller have been complimentary of Del Negro, but have stopped short of saying he will be back next season, and haven't even engaged him or his agent in serious contract negations after picking up the final year of his current three-year deal.
"You need players to win, so I've been pleased with the direction and kind of keeping everybody pulling in the same direction, but all of those things will be answered at the end of the season," Del Negro said. "Right now the focus should be on the players and the kind of commitment that they are putting in to help us be successful, and all of those things will be answered at the end of the season. I want the attention to be on the players. All of those things will be taken care of after the playoffs. There have been discussions early on but nothing significant, and we left it at that and now we're focusing on the playoffs."
Both Del Negro and Hollins led the Clippers and Grizzlies to the best winning percentage in each franchise's history last season, and to the highest win total for each this season. The fact the teams are even playing each other in the first round again is an anomaly. Since the NBA instituted the current playoff format in 1983-84, only one other first-round playoff series featured two teams that won at least 56 games each during the regular season, and that happened 15 years ago.
LOS ANGELES — The first game was a blowout and the second was won on a buzzer-beater, but both were wins for the Los Angeles Clippers, and that means they hold a 2-0 series advantage over the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference NBA playoffs.
It’s a good omen for the Clippers, who have been up 2-0 in a playoff series only one other time in franchise history. That time, in 2006, they went on to defeat the Denver Nuggets 4-1. A 2-0 series lead also holds a historical advantage: In NBA playoff history, a team has lost a series only 15 times after winning the first two.
Those things mean little to the Clippers, however. Nobody in their locker room was satisfied after Chris Paul’s buzzer-beating bank shot gave L.A. a 93-91 victory in Game 2 at Staples Center.
“All we did was protect our home court,” Vinny Del Negro said. “You have to win four games. We did what we were supposed to do. We know we’re going to have to play better in Memphis.”
It would be difficult to play better than Paul did down the stretch. He scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and was the only Clippers player to score in the final 3:46 of the game. The Clippers held a 12-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play and let the Grizzlies get back in to tie the game. L.A. was able to get away with that at home, but trying that on the road would be playing with fire.
“Each game is a game in itself,” Paul said. “You don’t carry over points, possessions, foul trouble or anything like that. We know that they’ll be at home in front of their fans with a lot of energy and they feel like they need to win two games at home now.”
The Clippers don’t need to look too far in the past to know how important it is to protect home-court advantage. Last year, Memphis had home-court advantage against the Clippers, but L.A. won Game 1 in Memphis and eventually won the series in seven games -- with Game 7 also in Memphis.
Those aren’t the only good memories the Clippers have of Memphis, either. Less than two weeks ago, the Clippers went into FedEx Forum with home-court advantage in this series on the line and won 91-87.
“I have complete confidence with our team on the road, especially,” Del Negro said. “We know what we’re in for, but that’s what it’s all about. The best part is the competition and challenging yourself to be better. I’m going to challenge this group to prepare the right way and have the right mindset going in.”
Lately, the Clippers have had a pretty good mindset. The win Monday was their ninth in a row overall, going back to the regular season. A streak like that only serves to boost the confidence level for the players. They showed that Saturday in their 112-91 dismantling of the Grizzlies, and Paul’s game-winner Monday was another shot in the arm.
“Every game in the playoffs is must-win,” forward Lamar Odom said. “It’s all about finishing the season strong. You can only do that with wins. It’s all about doing whatever it takes. We got another game, another inch, took another step toward our goal.”
Going up 2-0 in the series will make the plane ride across the country a much better one for the Clippers.
“In the playoffs it’s very important,” Odom said. “Mentally, it takes a little pressure off you, but at the same time we don’t want to go back there and just -- we want to push them to the limit and even play better than we played tonight.”
Odom has been around long enough to know that the series is far from over. Memphis coach Lionel Hollins can only hope so. He was preaching optimism despite the deficit his team is facing as it heads back home.
“We’ve got to go home and hold serve,” Hollins said. “That’s what they did. We almost got one here. It’s not doom and gloom. It was just a tough, hard-fought battle, and we’ve got to go home, and there are going to be two hard-fought battles there. And we’ve got to come away with two of them.”
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley expects the Memphis crowd to come out in full force. The fact that the team is down 2-0 is enough of a rallying cry, but it means even more that the Clippers are coming to town because of all the big wins L.A. has had in Memphis over the past year.
“When the Clippers come to town it’s obviously a different type of crowd because we have a history with them,” Conley said. “We’ve played a bunch of good games with them. We expect it to be loud and crazy and hopefully we can take care of that business at home.”
The Clippers aren’t exactly in a must-win situation on the road. They can merely win all of their home games and still win the series, but that’s not a thought that is crossing their heads as they head to Memphis.
“We’ve got to go down to Memphis and try to steal a game,” Paul said. “We’ve got to be greedy.”
To complicate matters, the game would possibly be the last ever played in Sacramento at Sleep Train Arena, as it has yet to be decided by the NBA whether the franchise will be sold to a group planning to move the Kings to Seattle and become the Supersonics in the offseason or stay in Sacramento with new, local ownership. As a result, Kings fans were loud and passionate, and the players -- despite having nothing to play for in the standings -- were inspired.
Before tipoff, the Clippers were notified that both the Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets had won earlier in the day, adding even more pressure.
The game was set up for the Clippers to fail, and they almost did, barely eking out a 112-108 win over the emotional Kings. With the win, the Clippers capped off the most successful regular season in franchise history on a high note, setting records in home wins (32) and road wins (24), to go along with a slew of other milestones.
Chris Paul scored 24 points and dished out 11 assists, and Chauncey Billups showed the Clippers what they’ve been missing for most of the season with 17 points.
Blake Griffin, who tweaked his back shooting during warmups and posted only seven points (3-of-10 shooting) and four rebounds, had a momentary scare late in the first half when he fell on his backside and had to leave the game with back spasms. He returned in the second half, albeit visibly hobbled and limited. After the game, he said he felt fine and it shouldn’t be an issue in the playoffs.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday night’s regular-season finale:
Game of runs
Neither team played consistent basketball, but the Clippers’ talent disparity was enough to overcome the Kings’ isolation-heavy offense. The Clippers started the second quarter on an 11-1 run, then maintained that pace to hold a 54-46 edge at halftime. But after the Clippers took a 59-50 lead with 9:14 remaining in the third quarter, the Kings responded with a 10-0 run of their own to take their first lead since the first seconds of the game. Paul soon took control and helped L.A. regain the lead. Marcus Thornton certainly made things interesting for the Kings in the fourth with a flurry of 3-pointers. The Clippers were still only up by three points with seven seconds left before Paul made one of two free throws for the final margin.
Crawford’s record-setting night
As Crawford’s third 3-pointer sank through the net, he passed Rasual Butler (145) for the most 3-pointers in a single season by a Clipper. By the time the game was over, Crawford had made six 3-pointers, setting the new mark at 149. His last two 3-pointers, though, were arguably the most important. First, he gave the Clippers a 100-98 lead off a step-back 3-pointer with 2:08 left. Then he made a corner 3 to put the Clips up 103-98 with 1:37 remaining. Griffin and Paul made key baskets down the stretch, and Billups nailed important free throws, but Crawford’s 24 points and six assists were the difference.
“Jamal Crawford made big shot after big shot,” Paul said after the game.
Securing home court
With the victory, the Clippers (56-26) tied the Grizzlies (56-26) for the fourth-best record in the West but secured home-court advantage for the series. The Clippers, by virtue of winning their division, earned home-court advantage in the tiebreaker. Even if that wasn’t the rule, the Clippers won the season series with the Grizzlies 3-1, so they would’ve had the tiebreaker anyway. The Clippers will host Game 1 against the Grizzlies on Saturday night, which is a step up from last season, when L.A. had to win Games 1 and 7 in Memphis before capturing their first-round series.
If that is the case and these two West heavyweights face each other in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers’ 91-87 win on Saturday will give them home-court advantage. More than that, if last season and the four games they played this season are any indication, we could be in store for another classic playoff series in a couple of weeks.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
That’s their D.J.
The ceiling for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is high. That’s one of the biggest reasons that his current contract (four years, $43 million) is as high as that ceiling. Unfortunately for Jordan and the Clippers, Jordan hasn’t come close to that ceiling. He will often show glimpses of it, occasionally grazing it and teasing fans and coaches alike. Luckily for the Clippers, Saturday was one of those games. In perhaps the biggest regular-season game of the season for the Clippers, Jordan played one of his best games. He scored 10 points to open the game in the first quarter and had a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds at the half. Jordan finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but his mere presence on the court in the fourth quarter was a welcome sight as he had two key blocks at the end of the game.
The old man
Grant Hill, 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, and he’s also one of the most popular players in the Clippers locker room; younger teammates call him everything from “young fella” to “grandpa.” Hill, however, hadn’t seen much of the court recently. He hadn’t played in the previous five games before Saturday and only saw scarce action in three of the previous 13 games. Hill, who has been dealing with various injuries, simply fell out of the rotation in what he believes is the final season of his career. He might have worked his way back in after Saturday’s game. With Caron Butler playing only nine minutes and being sidelined for the rest of the game with a sore right knee, Hill was forced into action and delivered. With the Clippers trailing 77-72, Hill hit a 3-pointer and putback to tie the game. He also mixed in two blocks and a rebound to help spark a 14-0 run by the Clippers. It was an incredible performance by a player who not only hadn’t seen the court in two weeks but didn’t enter the game until the end of the third quarter. Hill was only part of a stellar night by the Clippers bench, which put up 40 points and helped the team snap the Grizzlies’ 13-game home winning streak and hand them their first loss in Memphis since Feb. 5.
While the Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets were surging after the NBA All-Star break and compiling two of the top four records in the league, the Clippers were languishing around the .500 mark and unable to string consecutive wins together. That’s a big reason why they were staring at the possibility of opening the playoffs on the road despite putting together the best season in team history and having the NBA's best first-half record. The Clippers have finally turned the corner, however, having won five straight games for the first time since their 17-game win streak in December and controlling their own destiny for home court in the first round. If they beat Portland and Sacramento to close out the season, they will have home court against the Grizzlies as the four-seed. If the Nuggets lose one of their final three games and the Clippers win out, the Clippers would have home court as the three-seed in a possible matchup against the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets.
LOS ANGELES -- He'd flown through the night to arrive on time, and after three weeks of dangling in maddening uncertainty while the New Orleans Hornets worked out David Stern's version of the very best deal possible, you had to figure Chris Paul might say a few things on his first day as a Clipper he'd regret later.
Right off the top he started talking about being excited to join this "unbelievable franchise with so much history behind it" and you were wondering if the man had any idea of what he'd just signed up for.
Los Angeles Clippers history? There aren’t many parts worth telling. But the more Paul talked about the Clippers' present and future, the more he explained why he he'd chosen them over every other team that expressed an interest, the more obvious it became why he was here.
Of all the sidekicks, in all the joints in the NBA, Chris Paul walked into Blake Griffin's.
It was both a tremendous compliment and a tremendous burden for Griffin to live up to. As brilliant as he was as a rookie, Griffin was still young and unformed.
But part of what makes Paul such a good point guard is his vision. And on this subject he had no doubt: Griffin was good enough.
Paul wasn't interested in first-round playoff losses anymore. He could've stayed in New Orleans for that. Leaving the Hornets was winning more and winning faster, and for some reason, Paul thought Griffin was up to that task, now.
"I had NBA TV,'' Paul joked, when asked whether he was confident Griffin could grow into the teammate he needed him to be. "So yeah, I knew. ... The sky was the limit."