ANOTHER CLIPPERS COMEBACK LEADS TO 2-1 SERIES ADVANTAGE
RYAN MENEZES | 5/5/12

LOS ANGELES– It wasn't grand larceny like Game 1, but it was another series of late-game heroics that the sea of red inside Staples Center for Saturday's Game 3 have become very familiar with.

The Clippers have a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series against the Grizzlies after they wrested control of the fourth quarter from the Grizzlies. They used nine straight points to take a six-point lead with 23 seconds to play, then sweat out their own missed free-throws and some late Memphis shots – including a Rudy Gay 3-pointer at the buzzer that missed short – to escape with an 87-86 win.

Both of the Clippers’ wins in the series have come by a one-point margin. Saturday’s matchup – the first home playoff game in six years – saw no less drama than the 27-point comeback the Clippers pulled off in Memphis in Game 1.

“This was a gutsy performance,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “In the fourth quarter, things flipped and we got some stops and scores and we were able to get a good defensive stop at the end there.”

The Clippers had led by as many as 13 points in the first half, then saw the Grizzlies come back nearly pull away during a sluggish fourth quarter.

“We need to understand there’s a way to hit them with a big-time blow,” Randy Foye said. “We need to stay solid and play every single possession as hard as we can.”

But Chris Paul once again seized momentum from the Grizzlies in the fourth quarter, giving the Clippers the edge they needed to hang on at the end.

“That’s the biggest thing—we’ve got to make the big plays in the last minute of the game, not just the beginning,” Grizzlies forward Quincy Pondexter said.

Difference Maker: At this point, there’s little Reggie Evans can do to avoid a rousing “Reg-gie!” chant from the Staples Center crowd. On Saturday, Evans’ gritty play resulted in 11 rebounds, three on the offensive end. He once again was a part of the Clippers’ closing lineup, playing tough defensively against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to carry the Clippers home.

“Everybody in the stands works so hard just to earn a dollar,” Evans said. “At least, they want to see somebody try hard. I guess they appreciate the blue-collar play.”

Turning Point: Foye erased the Grizzlies lead, which had been as much as seven in the fourth quarter, by calmly knocking down a 3-pointer with a little over three minutes to go to tie the game at 80. Foye (16 points) had half of the Clippers’ eight threes on the day, as many as the Grizzlies combined.

Stat Line of the Night: Paul had 24 points and 11 assists while buoying the Clippers’ 13-for-30 free-throw effort from the line (43.3%) by hitting 7-of-8 from the line. He also had four steals.

More Stats: Blake Griffin shook off Zach Randolph’s pushing and prodding on the block, to put up 17 points. He drew a technical foul for mixing it up with Randolph in the first quarter but didn’t let it affect his game. Griffin threw down a pair of lobs and had two other crucial dunks – one at the buzzer in the first half after a steal 2.3 seconds earlier; the other a two-handed slam in the final minutes that put the Clippers up four.

Caron Butler, playing through a fractured left hand that was supposed to sideline him for over a month, had four points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Gay made two 3-pointers in the final 12.9 seconds to bring the Grizzlies to within one and finished with 24 points despite not scoring until nearly 17 minutes into the game. He went 12-of-15 from the line and had seven rebounds and three steals.

Hot: Foye, who was 4-of-5 from three.

Not: The Clippers from the free-throw line. While Memphis made 30-of-39 free-throws, the Clippers struggled from the charity stripe. Only four Clippers (Griffin, Paul, Evans, and Eric Bledsoe) shot free throws and they combined to go 13-of-30. Five straight misses in the final 20 seconds, combined with back-to-back 3-pointers by Gay, nearly set the Grizzlies up to steal the game.

“That’s very concerning, but we’ll get through it,” Paul said of the Clippers’ 17 misses. “We have practice tomorrow. Guys that went to the line, I would give it back to them in a heartbeat.”

Quotables:

On the late free-throw misses:
Eric Bledsoe: “Today they just didn’t fall. I can’t hang my head over it, my teammates picked me up. Just got to go into Game 4 and make them.”

Chris Paul: “That shows how much fight we have, to miss that many free-throws and come away with a win like that. But we know in order to get to where we want to get to, that’s unacceptable.”

On being more physical than Memphis:
Blake Griffin: “Our plan was to be aggressive from the beginning of the game. We ended up doing a good job of that early, let our guard down here and there, but overall ended up doing a good job of being the more aggressive team.”

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