Clippers defeat Grizzlies, go up 2-1 in series
LOS ANGELES — Despite a bit of a third-quarter collapse, the Los Angeles Clippers took command of their first-round series with Memphis, defeating the Grizzlies 87-86.
Chris Paul put the Clippers up for good in the final two minutes, shaking to his right to can a contested jumper and finding Blake Griffin for a baseline jam. Rudy Gay had some late-game heroics of his own, but his last-second shot bounced off the rim.
Paul finished with 24 points and 11 assists in the win, which puts the Clippers up 2-1 in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 in the series will be Monday in Los Angeles (7:30 p.m. PST tipoff).
“He has done it all year and his whole career,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “When the game is on the line, he’s as good as there is.”
The Clippers got an early lift when Caron Butler returned to the starting lineup. Butler missed Game 2 and was expected to be out for 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his left hand. But Butler practiced Friday and felt well enough to play while wearing padding and a brace on his injured hand.
Del Negro used Butler’s toughness as a talking point before the game.
“It would have been so easy for (Butler) to say, ‘I’m done, and I’m going to take care of my hand. I’ll be ready for next year,’” Paul said. “That’s one thing (Del Negro) said, if he can fight with on broken hand, what can the rest of us do?”
Los Angeles couldn’t capitalize on the early momentum as Memphis’ Zach Randolph looked to score early, hitting three jump shots from the left baseline. The Grizzlies also moved the ball well, assisting on seven of their first nine field goals.
But on the other end of the floor, Memphis couldn’t contain the Clippers in the paint. In the first quarter, the Clippers, led by Blake Griffin, hit all five shots they took in the lane.
After leading by one at the end of the first, the Clippers got hot from the perimeter early in the second quarter, running out to a double-digit lead before Memphis sprinted back into the game, tying the score before the Clippers closed that half on a quick spurt to lead by four.
After Chris Paul sank a pair of free throws, Griffin stole the inbounds pass and slammed the ball in right before the halftime buzzer.
Nothing came easy for either team all afternoon.
Griffin and Randolph fought for every inch on the block, with the players almost coming to blows numerous times. Griffin was hit with a technical foul in the second quarter when he slapped Randolph’s hands away from him while he was trying to run the floor after a Memphis miss.
“I feel like we matched their physical play,” Del Negro said. “We only had one offensive rebound in the first half, but in the second half, we did a better job on the glass. I felt like we controlled them better.”
The Grizzlies’ defensive toughness keyed a big third-quarter run that flipped the game around, giving the Grizzlies an eight-point lead before Paul split a pair of free throws to cut the score to 71-64 heading into the fourth quarter. While being outscored 25-14 in the third quarter, the Clippers shot just 29.4 percent.
“We battled back,” Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins said. “And we had a chance at the end.”
But the Clippers had another comeback in them, starting with Paul’s rainbow three-point shot on the very first play of the fourth quarter.
After tying the game inside of three minutes, Paul shook loose for a jumper to put the Clippers up by two and left the ball off to a cutting Griffin for a dunk to stretch the lead to four.
Gay kept Memphis in the game, though, draining a pair of tough three-point shots while the Clippers floundered at the line, missing five of their final six. Like they did in Game 2, Memphis dominated from the foul line, hitting 30 of 39 compared to 13 of 30 for the Clippers.
Gay led the Grizzlies with 24 points and Randolph added 17.
“We’ve got to move on,” Marc Gasol said. “The only way we can get better is to learn and move on.”
NOTES: Despite missing Friday’s practice with a sore forearm, Mo Williams played Saturday against Memphis. Eric Bledsoe (elbow) and Nick Young (hand) also played Saturday in game three. … Sam Cassell, the starting point guard for the last Clippers team to make the playoffs (2006) was in the arena and received a standing ovation. … On their way into Staples Center, fans were given red t-shirts that said “Clipper Nation All In.”