A late Grizzlies run dashed those hopes, forcing a winner-take-all showdown by coming to Los Angeles and winning Game 6, 90-88, Friday evening at Staples Center.
The Clippers missed a chance to end the series in no small part due to the ailments of their top two players, who were both hurt in Wednesday’s Game 5 loss. Griffin (sprained left knee) went on to score a team-high 17 points but wasn’t as explosive as he was earlier in the series. Paul (strained right hip flexor) was less inclined to attack and spent a lot of the game defending off the ball.
“It’s tough but nobody is 100 percent at this point of the season,” Paul said. “I tried to suck it up and so did Blake. We still had an opportunity to win.”
Both eventually found a comfortable intensity to play at despite their injuries and picked the Clippers up from another slow start to make it a competitive game late.
Then, the miscues hit. Paul turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. The Grizzlies found Zach Randolph for a wide-open dunk. Paul missed a free-throw that could have made it a one-possession game, which was promptly followed by an unguarded
Tony Allen leaking out for a solo fast break and making two free throws as a result.
“They made more plays,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Obviously, Chris and Blake were battling through as best as they could, but I tried to monitor their minutes a little bit since this game was so tight.”
The Clippers will board a plane tomorrow, heading back to Memphis for Game 7 at FedEx Forum a day later.
“This was a big game and on Sunday it will be a big game again, we have to close it out,” Randy Foye said.
Paul still remembers his only Game 7, a home loss the Hornets suffered to the Spurs in 2008 that still has him feeling salty, the same way he was feeling after the Clippers couldn’t close out Friday night.
“It has to hurt,” Paul said. “This one has to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, it means you don’t care.”
Difference Maker: With Paul hobbled, Eric Bledsoe stepped up. The second-year guard eased some of the burden off Paul’s shoulders on both sides of the ball. He constantly pressured Memphis’ ball-handlers and had a big day offensively by scoring 14 points, tying a season-high and just his fourth double-digit scoring output of the season. Bledsoe used his athleticism to go up to tip in two offensive rebounds, and he sparked the Clippers offense with six assists.
Turning Point: The Clippers bench – sans Paul and Griffin – had come in and outworked a crew of Grizzlies starters, stretching the Clippers’ biggest lead of the night to eight points with a little over eight minutes to go in the fourth. But in over two minutes, their lead was gone for good. The Grizzlies went on a 10-0 run in the span and held on for the rest of the game.
Stat Line of the Night: Randolph had the only double-double of the game – 18 points and 16 rebounds – on 8-of-17 shooting. Perhaps his biggest play of the night came on his dunk with 3:11 to play that stretched the Grizzlies lead to five. The Clippers would not pull to within one possession the rest of the night.
More Stats: Both of the Clippers’ hobbled stars were mostly held in check. Griffin had a team-high 17 points, six assists and five rebounds while Paul had 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Kenyon Martin and Caron Butler both added 10 points.
Reggie Evans pulled down 10 rebounds, his third double-digit rebounding game of the series.
Hot: After being held in check for the early part of the series, Marc Gasol churned out his second straight 23-point game for the Grizzlies. He continually got the better of the Clippers bigs with his post moves and made nine field goals on just 16 shots. Gasol added nine rebounds and three assists.
On the bench:
Chris Paul: “Eric Bledsoe and those guys were outstanding but it was a tough loss. We put ourselves in position to win, like that game one, we took on that grit and grind mentality. Tonight we were like them, at the end of the game having an eight point lead and letting them back in.”
On the late-game scoring run:
Lionel Hollins: “We just kept battling. We went to the offensive glass a few times, and made big plays. Marc [Gasol] got going, Zach [Randolph] got going, and Rudy [Gay] had a couple of big baskets. Then we really started collapsing, closing down, and did not give them [the Clippers] anything.”
On the series momentum:
Randy Foye: “We have to put this game behind us, as hard as it is, and we have to go to Memphis and play one more game. It won’t be easy to put this game behind us but as a professional basketball player you have good games and you have bad games. You have good wins and bad losses but the good thing about it is we always get another shot.”
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