MEMPHIS-It looked and felt a lot like last time; the Clippers trailing by more than 20 points, late in the third quarter.
And as the Grizzlies' 24-point lead in Game 5 slowly evaporated, the groans from the FedEx Forum crowd were also hauntingly similar to Game 1. However, despite holding Memphis to six points in a nearly 11-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, the Clippers could not muster another magical comeback, losing 92-80 on Wednesday night.
It was the fourth time in the last 24 hours a team with a 3-1 series advantage failed to close out their opponent. Indiana and Miami advanced to the second round under those circumstances, while Philadelphia, Boston, the Lakers, and now the Clippers failed to do so. Game 6 between the Clippers and Grizzlies is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Staples Center.
"It came down really to a few offensive rebounds and us obviously not being able to make enough shots," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said of the Clippers' series-low 37.4% shooting. "We had good shots that we usually make and they didn't go down tonight."
All-Stars Blake Griffin (sprained left knee) and Chris Paul (strained right hipflexor) left the game with injuries in the second half. Both returned to the game. However, Paul, who was clearly hobbled, was taken out for good with 1:25 remaining and the Clippers trailing by eight.
Difference Maker: Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has been maligned for much of the series. After scoring on five of his first six field goals in Game 1, he had been limited to 31 points in the next 15 quarters plus overtime. The Grizzlies vowed to focus on getting Gasol the ball more often Wednesday and the 7-foot-1 Spaniard responded with his best all-around game of the series.
He, along with front-court mate Zach Randolph, set the tone early. Gasol had 12 points, two rebounds, and two assists in the first quarter. He finished with a game-high 23 points, seven boards, and four assists, and more importantly for Memphis played 39 minutes and avoided foul trouble.
"They're big bodies and take up a lot of space," DeAndre Jordan said. "They were just ducking in and got easy buckets early, but a lot of the shots they took were contested. We forced them out as much as possible. I don't feel like they were getting a lot of easy shots."
Turning Point: With Memphis bogging down offensively and the Clippers chopping away at the Grizzlies' lead, there was a sense that L.A. was a play or two away from seizing control of the game. Mike Conley made a tough, running bank shot at the 5:52 mark of the fourth quarter to curtail a 24-6 Clippers run.
The Clippers missed eight of their next nine shots failing to take advantage of a Memphis scoring drought that lasted 4:12.
"The crowd got quiet," Randy Foye said. "We knew if we continued to push, we'd be in a game towards the end, but we can't depend on hawking people down or trying to catch them at the end. We've got to do that from the beginning."
Best Adjustment: Getting the ball to Randolph, who had 15 of his 19 points in the first quarter, and Gasol early set the tone for Memphis. They struggled from the outside, though, and Del Negro's intermittent use of a 2-3 zone defense helped the Clippers hold the duo to 2-for-11 shooting after the opening frame.
Stat Line of the Night: Blake Griffin. Despite missing a short stretch late in the third quarter after injuring his left knee on an awkward fall when his legs got tangled with Gasol, Griffin managed his first career postseason double-double. He had 15 points, a game-high 11 rebounds, and three steals. However, after dishing out a team-high tying seven assists on Monday, Griffin was held without an assist in Game 5.
More Stats: Randolph. The burly power forward came out firing, making all six of his shots in the first quarter and grabbing five boards. He finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, made seven of his 10 free throws, and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Paul. By no stretch of the imagination was it an ideal night for the dynamic guard. He injured his right hipflexor, had 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting, was whistled for a technical foul during a turbulent stretch in the third quarter, and had three turnovers and a personal series-low four assists. Still, he made a tough 18-footer in the fourth to pull the Clippers to within in eight early in the fourth and pulled down six rebounds.
Mo Williams. The Clippers' sixth man scored a team-high 20 points, his high for the series, on 8-for-21 from the floor and 3-for-9 from 3-point range. Late in the game, Williams was arguably the only offensive punch the Clippers had, taking seven shots and making three over a 4:10 span.
Reggie Evans grabbed nine rebounds in 27:30, bringing his series average up to 8.4 per game.
Hot: The Grizzlies in the first quarter. Gasol and Randolph scored a bulk of the points (27) on 12-of-14 shooting in the opening frame, but the rest of the Grizzlies contributed as well. Memphis went 15-for-21, outshooting the Clippers by 35%, and taking a 36-22 lead that they would never relinquish.
Not: Caron Butler. A game after providing the Clippers with an emotional and statistical lift, Butler had trouble finding his shot. He went 2-for-10 from the field and was 0-for-5 after the first quarter. He also picked up five fouls and was whistled for a technical foul in the third quarter.
Still, his first quarter was something to marvel at. He twice created for himself, using dribble drives with his fractured left hand. The first, he turned the corner on Rudy Gay and made a tough jumper on the baseline and the next he used his left hand to wrap around dribble, drive the lane and throw down a right-handed dunk around Randolph.
Vinny Del Negro: "I thought we got off to a good start. We moved the ball well. We were shooting it well. We were sharing it well. We were attacking the rim and then we had a few turnovers, and they got out on the open court. We got beat down the court a few times."
Lionel Hollins: "I thought our defense was outstanding the whole game. They shot 37 percent, and we took away some of the people that have been hurting us. Offensively, we lost our poise in that third quarter. They were fussing with the officials and getting technicals, and we were getting into it with them and kept committing fouls. Next thing you know, the clock is stopped and they are shooting free throws and we're in foul trouble. But, we made enough plays and got enough stops tonight and that kept us ahead. In the past, they just kept making shots and we haven't been able to stop them. It wasn't perfect, but we got enough stops."
On the physicality of play in the pain:
Marc Gasol: "We did a better job of executing the game plan, especially defensively. I think we were a little more disciplined on defense than in the past especially in the fourth quarter when they were cutting the lead that we had. I have to give a lot of credit to the guys."
On playing Game 6 at home:
DeAndre Jordan: "We have a lot of confidence going back home. We would have loved to close it out here but we didn't. So we will go home and feed off our home crowd."
On his health:
Zach Randolph: "Yeah, I'm feeling better every game. Now I just have to put a whole game together - start to finish. I'm getting there. You know, whatever I can do to help this team win - rebound, defense and face guard guys, whatever I have to do. It's a team game, and I'm just trying to contribute."
Notes: Clippers led 17-16 and were outscored 41-25 in the remainder of the first half...Gasol, Butler, Paul, Williams, Eric Bledsoe, and Del Negro were whistled for technical fouls in the game, bringing the series total to 19 technicals combined...The Clippers were out-rebounded for the fourth time in five games. The Grizzlies won the battle of the boards, 42-35... The game took two hours, 46 minutes to complete, a near blur after Game 4 lasted nearly a half-hour longer...The Grizzlies dominated the paint, outscoring the Clippers, 48-26. The Clippers were 7-for-24 (29.2% from 3-point range, while Memphis went 0-for-6. It's the first time in the series either team went scoreless from beyond the arc.
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