May 10, 2012
The Memphis Grizzlies have the Los Angeles Clippers frustrated and hurting.
Blake Griffin sprained his left knee, Chris Paul went to the Clippers' bench with a sore right hip and another late comeback fizzled against a Memphis team that got back to its bruising, grinding style to stave off elimination with a 92-80 victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
Game 6 in the first-round Western Conference series is in Los Angeles on Friday night. If needed, Game 7 will be Sunday in Memphis.
"There's no point leaving home if we don't know our way back," Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo said. "We can't look at Sunday because we have to make sure we get back home after Friday night."
The physical pounding is starting to take a toll on the Clippers. Coach Vinny Del Negro said Griffin and Paul were being evaluated after the game.
"We've got to get home, get some therapy, get rest and then get back to work on Friday," Del Negro said.
During the game, the Clippers' team doctor and trainer told Del Negro that Griffin and Paul could return in the fourth quarter. But once Paul started hobbling, Del Negro took him out.
Memphis returns to Los Angeles having lost both regular-season games to the Clippers at the Staples Center along with the first two playoff games there. But the Grizzlies are confident, believing they should have won Game 3, an 87-86 loss, and Game 4, which went to overtime.
"We have to go back to L.A. and win that game," Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. "That's what it is ... We have to get our rest tonight and tomorrow and be ready Friday."
Marc Gasol scored 23 points and Randolph added 19 as the Grizzlies got back to the inside-out style that helped them knock off top-seeded San Antonio in the first round last spring and push Oklahoma City to seven games in the semifinals.
Rudy Gay added 14 points for Memphis.
Mo Williams had 20 points for the Clippers, while Paul scored 19 and Griffin had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Paul and Griffin both missed time in the fourth quarter with the injuries.
"Our Game 7's Friday," Williams said.
Memphis pounded the ball into the paint and banged on the Clippers all night. The Grizzlies outscored Los Angeles 48-26 in the paint and had a 42-35 edge in rebounds. The Clippers expected the Grizzlies to do just that and couldn't stop them.
"They got a lot of easy post touches at the beginning of the game," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. "Throughout, a lot of their shots were contested, but once you get a groove and get comfortable, the shots become comfortable."
Gasol, an All-Star this season for the first time in his career, turned in his best game yet in this series after talking with Memphis coach Lionel Hollins and Randolph about being more aggressive.
"We've had our backs against the wall. We still have them," Gasol said. "We haven't done anything yet, and we want to take it back to L.A. and give them another big battle."
The Clippers came in needing a win to clinch their first series since 2006 and advance to a second-round series against top-seeded San Antonio. While Paul has plenty of postseason experience, this was the first close-out game for the likes of Griffin, Randy Foye and Jordan.
Griffin hurt his knee when he tangled legs with Gasol on a drive to the basket in the third quarter. Griffin stayed on the court for a few minutes before going to the bench. But he returned to attempt his free throws and played most of the fourth quarter.
"One of our guys went down," said Clippers forward Caron Butler, who's playing despite breaking his left hand in Game 1. "Not just one of our guys, one of our superstars. It's important that we go down and check on our brother. He got up. It was a tough play. He got banged up pretty bad. But he's a soldier. He got back out there and kept chipping away at it with us."
Los Angeles last led at 17-16 before a fastbreak layup by Tony Allen that was set up by a long pass from Gasol put Memphis ahead to stay at 18-17 with 5:40 left in the first quarter.
"We've got to do a better job keeping our composure a little bit," Del Negro said.
The Clippers closed the third quarter with a 14-2 run and got within six twice to conjure up memories of Game 1, when Memphis blew a 27-point lead. Foye pulled the Clippers within 85-79 on a layup with 55.7 seconds left.
"You could hear the crowd getting quieter and quieter," Foye said.
With CP3 on the bench, that was as close as they would get.
"We made enough plays and got enough stops tonight that kept us ahead," Hollins said. "In the past, they kept making shots, and we haven't been able to stop them. So even though our offense wasn't perfect, we got enough stops."
Hollins didn't give his Grizzlies any credit for slowing Paul.
"I thought he did a good job of containing himself when he got hurt and went to the bench," Hollins said.