MEMPHIS–There were moments early in Game 2 of the Clippers’ playoff matchup with the fourth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies when it looked like they could head back to Los Angeles with a two-game lead and a firm grip on the series.
The Clippers quieted FedEx Forum’s rowdy patrons in the opening nine minutes of the first quarter, converting seven of their first 10 field goal attempts, forcing Memphis into tough shots on the other end, and playing with the kind of intensity that they insisted was missing through much of their 2012 playoff debut three nights earlier.
But the Grizzlies withstood the Clippers’ early push, extended their defense and forced 21 turnovers to help even the first-round series Wednesday with a 105-98 victory.
“I think we’re madder about losing this one than as excited as we were about winning Game 1 because we felt like we came out with the right mentality,” Chris Paul said, referring to their historic comeback from 27 points down in the third quarter Sunday. “We hit first and stuff like that, but it just didn’t work in our favor.”
The series shifts to Staples Center Saturday afternoon for Game 3.
Difference Maker: Six Grizzlies scored in double-figures, led by Rudy Gay’s 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but one of the biggest differences Wednesday was the free throw differential. Memphis made 31 of their 39 free throws (79.5%) as compared to the Clippers shooting 13-of-18 from the line (72.8%). The number of attempts was inflated by the Clippers’ inability to defend without fouling in the fourth quarter. Memphis made just one field goal in the final 3:52 but went 8-for-12 at the line due in large part to getting in the bonus with 5:24 left in the game.
Turning Point: After Paul knocked down a 3-pointer from about 2 feet behind the line late in the third quarter to cut Memphis’ lead to two, Blake Griffin pulled down a rebound on the other end giving L.A. a chance to tie or take the lead. Paul threw an errant pass that was intercepted by Gay and led to a fast-break layup for O.J. Mayo. It was two of the Grizzlies’ 20 fast-break points and snapped a mini 7-2 run by the Clippers.
Best Adjustment: As the Clippers opened up a 24-17 lead in the first quarter, Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins used a lineup of Mayo, Quincy Pondexter, Rudy Gay, Mareessee Speights, and Dante Cunningham to shift the tenor of the game. The group, with Mayo playing point guard, went on a 18-10 run, giving the Grizzlies their first lead midway through the second quarter.
“I wanted a little bit bigger guy on Mo Williams,” Hollins said. “Q [Ponxdexter] did a nice job on him. He did a nice job on [Randy] Foye, whoever we had matched up. I just decided that I wanted to keep Rudy [Gay] in the game, but I still wanted Q to get in the game. I just changed up the line-up a little bit”.
Stat Line of the Night: Paul. He was aggressive as a scorer in the early going and appeared back to near full-strength after nursing a sore left groin for the last week. Paul finished with 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He also nabbed five steals to go with six assists and three rebounds.
More Stats: Griffin. He took another physical pounding, wrestling with Zach Randolph in the post, but he scored 22 points, nine rebounds, and two steals. While the Grizzlies limited Griffin’s easy plays at the rim, he still managed to shoot 9-for-15, using jump hooks and spinning layups in the paint.
Nick Young and Mo Williams. The sharp-shooting duo off the bench scored 11 points apiece, including a number of highly contested shots. Williams opened the fourth quarter with consecutive baskets to keep the Clippers afloat and Young, who earlier in the day said he felt like “Memphis’ Most Wanted,” connected on all three of his shots from behind the arc.
Bobby Simmons. The veteran small forward had nine points on 4-for-5 shooting starting in place of Caron Butler.
Mayo. He practically matched Young and Williams on his own, scoring 20 points off the bench. Whenever the Clippers seemed to be edging within striking distance Mayo or Gay had answer.
Hot: Paul. He made his first four 3-pointers and missed just four of his first 13 shots. He was clearly dialed in form a scoring standpoint.
Not: Randy Foye. In 27 minutes, Foye, who entered the playoffs as one of the hottest shooters in the league, scored six points on six shots and was 0-for-2 from 3-point range as the Grizzlies ran him off the line and prevented him from getting open looks in transition.
On the difference in the game:
Vinny Del Negro: Well, too many offensive rebounds and too many turnovers. That’s what they live on, and we helped them a lot tonight. They got the fast-breaks. They got to the line. We got to start fouling a little bit at the end. We shot it well enough. We did a better job of controlling them from the three-point line where they hurt us in the first game. But the bottom line, it was their offensive rebounds and our turnovers. That was the difference.
Bobby Simmons: “I think going into the closing minutes of the game we gave up a few offensive rebounds and free throws and that was one of the things. And it came down to making shots, trying not to foul and put them on the line.”
On why Memphis was able to gain a 37-28 rebounding advantage:
DeAndre Jordan: “They [Memphis] just keep guys in there and all five of their guys crash the boards, so all five of us have to box out. It can’t be just the bigs boxing out it has to be guards, too, because guys like Tony [Allen], Rudy [Gay] they all crash and their looking to get long rebounds and strips from our bigs whenever we bring it down.”
On Rudy Gay:
Del Negro: “He had a few plays there where he just jumps over you at the free-throw line. We switched some things, but they were driving him a lot down the middle. He’s long and he shoots it high. It’s hard to get to it, and he got to his sweet spots a little bit too easy tonight at times. We weren’t in our coverages as much as I would have liked at times. I thought we were a little slow on our weakside defense reaction there. But Rudy’s going to make some shots.
On where the game turned:
Blake Griffin: “I thought we did a pretty good job in the first quarter. In the second quarter, I think they got some easy looks and made some shots and slipped on a few things on defense. That got them going and we just couldn’t fight back from there.”
Reggie Evans: “We felt like we had a little momentum going, especially when I may have gotten a steal on Rudy [Gay] and it was called out of bounds and it went to a timeout. Then I think [Eric] Bledsoe ended up getting a steal and he ended up hurting himself [losing the dribble and landing on his elbow]. We felt the momentum going then, so you feel that coming and all of sudden Bledsoe got that steal and they got it back. When that happened it kind of slowed the momentum down.”
On Game 1:
O.J. Mayo: “We thought after watching the fourth quarter of Game 1, they were really physical, they really killed us. We had a head first mentality tonight and we definitely attacked the paint and keep our big fellows involved. They are working really hard, defensive end and screen and rolls so we definitely want them getting some baskets in the paint.”
Notes: Butler missed the game with a fractured fifth metacarpal in his left hand… The Grizzlies outrebounded the Clippers 37-28 and 16-4 on the offensive glass. They also had an 18-6 advantage in second chance points… It was the eighth consecutive playoff sellout for the Grizzlies… The Clippers shot 56.7% for the game and made nine of their 16 3-pointers (56.3%). It’s the second game in a row in which the team with the best 3-point shooting percentage lost.
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