PAUL CARRIES THE LOAD AFTER GRIFFIN LEAVES IN OVERTIME AS CLIPPERS MOVE ONE GAME FROM ADVANCING IN PLAYOFFS
RYAN MENEZES | 5/7/12

LOS ANGELES–Asked to point out the difference in the Clippers’ 101-97 overtime win, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins uttered two words: “Chris Paul.”

The refrain has been one on the lips of many coaches on the losing end of Paul’s heroic feats. As the teams battled late into Monday night, Paul’s knack for leaving opposing coaches salty and scrambling to adjust shone through again.

Despite a late surge from a Memphis team on the ropes resulting in the Grizzlies forcing overtime, Paul saved his best for last. He hit four jumpers in overtime, each with seemingly increased difficulty, to help propel the Clippers to a 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Memphis.

Ever the perfectionist, Paul rued his missed chance to win it at the end of regulation, a very un-Paul-like moment in a game defined by his show-stopping moves. He still relished having the ball in his hands to close out games.

“This is fun and exciting,” Paul said. “The worst mistake that I made during the game was not getting a shot at the end of regulation. If I were at home watching TV, I would be talking so bad about myself. The most fun thing about it is that I have teammates who believe in me.”

Before Paul’s late-game mastery, the two words that best described the difference could have been “Blake Griffin.” Griffin got the better of the Grizzlies’ stout frontcourt en route to his best performance in the series. He would eventually foul out with 2:26 left in overtime, but not before his presence was felt.

Each Clippers win in the series has seen a thrilling finish go their way, which is no coincidence when you factor in Paul’s knack for pulling wins out of his hat. Now the Clippers are one game away from the Western Conference Semifinals thanks to three wins by a total of six points.

“There’s a reason why we [Memphis and the Clippers] finished No. 4 and 5 with one game between us,” Paul said of how evenly matched the teams are. “I think all the games in the regular season between us were pretty close. These are such big games.”

Difference Maker: Though by the end of the game his contributions had long passed, Caron Butler’s presence on offense and energy on defense made it seem as if he wasn’t nursing a fractured left hand.

In his second game back since strapping on a bulky brace on his ailing hand, Butler gave the Clippers much-needed scoring early by pouring in the Clippers’ first eight points. He got it started with a dribble drive – going left – for the Clippers first points nearly three minutes into the first quarter. Butler had 11 points in the first quarter and 14 on the game while hounding Rudy Gay on the defensive end.

Turning Point: The fourth quarter, when Memphis again turned to Gay. The sixth-year small forward has been the Grizzlies’ go-to guy down the stretch of every game in the series and was relied on for his scoring once again on Monday night. Gay had 11 points in the fourth quarter to erase the Clippers’ slim lead, including a game-tying bucket with under a minute to go.

Stat Line of the Night: Griffin had his finest performance of his first career postseason, putting up 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting and dishing out seven assists to go with five rebounds. As has been a theme of the series so far, Griffin continually collided with the Grizzlies’ frontline. He and Memphis power forward Zach Randolph once again butted heads—literally, at one point, when Randolph was called for a technical foul. Griffin shot 10-of-17 from the foul line, including a big make in overtime. 

“Every time he catches the ball he has 14 guys on the bench yelling at him ‘Go! Go! Go!’” Paul said of his running mate. “He does a great job of picking his spots. He was unbelievable for us tonight.”

Griffin said, “It’s been physical, man. It’s been unreal. I don’t know how to describe it. You think, ok, it’s going to be physical all game both ways, then it’s not, then it is. It keeps you on your toes.”

 More Stats: Mo Williams had nine points to lead all bench scorers, including two key free-throws in overtime that helped the Clippers seal the game.

Reggie Evans helped the Clippers close out a win yet again with defense and rebounding down the stretch. He had two points and eight rebounds (four offensive).

The Clippers shot 70 percent from the free-throw line, a marked improvement from a 13-for-30 showing in Game 3.

Hot: Mike Conley. Memphis’ southpaw point guard shot 10-of-15 on the night as he continually took it at Paul on the offensive end. Conley led the Grizzlies with 25 points.

Not: Randolph. The Grizzlies’ star seemed agitated by the play of Griffin and never did get into a rhythm offensively, scoring just 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

 Quotables: 

On Chris Paul:

Randy Foye: “He’s a great reader of the defense. He understands what the defense is doing. He understands where the help is coming from.”

Tony Allen: “We made plays down the stretch. I would say [Paul] pretty much dictated the whole game.”

On Griffin’s seven assists:

Blake Griffin: “We just moved the ball well. … When I caught it in the post everyone was cutting, everyone was in motion. When we do that it’s a lot tougher to guard just because we can turn their back and focus on one thing. The motion in the offense helped a lot.”

On the close-out game:

Chris Paul: “I’ve only won one series since I’ve been in the NBA. … Just from watching so many games and playing in close out games it’s the toughest one. Especially going to Memphis is going to be extremely tough because their back’s against the wall.”

Mike Conley: “It can be the last game for us, so we have to give it everything we’ve got regardless if guys are happy, if guys are not. We’ve got to play for one another understanding that winning is automatic at this point and it doesn’t matter how we do it.”

On the loss:

Lionel Hollins: “They’re up 3-1. They have another game at home. We haven’t won out here. So they do have a huge advantage, but that doesn’t mean that the series is over. It means that we have to go fight, and I expect us to keep fighting.”

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