LOS ANGELES - The Clippers and Grizzlies came into tonight’s season opener expecting physical play, knowing that every bucket had to be earned. Yet with emotions running high, the game became more of a dogfight: a contest of who could outlast each other’s runs, and more importantly, who could stay on the floor the longest. 

The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies, 101-92, Wednesday at Staples Center largely due to the play of their second unit, which was called upon when Blake Griffin found himself in early foul trouble. 

Reserve guard Jamal Crawford lit it up from the perimeter, leading all scorers with 29 points. His 11 points in the second quarter ignited the surge that allowed his team to go up by 12 midway through quarter.Despite committing 22 turnovers, including 15 by halftime that led to 17 first-half Memphis points, the Clippers hung tight.

“We had so many turnovers my head is still swollen,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We threw it all over the place, but our bench was the difference tonight. Jamal [Crawford] had some big shots down the stretch.

“I’m proud of the way our guys fought. It’s not always going to look pretty. It’s not always going to look perfect, but you have to find ways to handle that adversity and I thought we did that well tonight with different lineups in the game.”

Difference Maker: Chris Paul. Paul’s line of 11 points and 12 assists may look modest by his lofty standards, but he showed veteran leadership down the stretch when his team needed it most. Fans even chanted “M-V-P” during his free-throws in the final seconds of the game.

Turning Point: Crawford’s 3-pointer in the corner with 2:41 left in the game gave th Clippers a 96-90 lead and mobilized Staples Center, who sensed their team pulling away.

Stat Line of the Night: Crawford, known for his instant offense, came up big in the fourth quarter, his favorite time of the game. In scoring 29 points he went 10-for-14 from the field and 6-for-8 from the free throw line. His teammates were not surprised.

“He’s been doing that for the longest,” Paul said. “Everyone knows what’s coming, but yet they still can’t stop him.”

More Stats:

Eric Bledsoe. The reserve guard scored 13 points, including critical back-to-back layups that capped a 9-0 early fourth-quarter run.

Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies center dominated the paint with 20 points and seven rebounds. Along with Zach Randolph’s 16 boards, the pair frustrated the Clippers frontline into careless fouls throughout.

Rudy Gay. He finished with 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting and 7 rebounds, often at the forefront of his team’s runs to get back into the game.  

Hot: The Clippers’ bench. They outscored Memphis’ bench 49-17. Altogether, six players scored in double figures for L.A. showing the depth that the rest of the league has been buzzing about so far in this early season.

Not: The Clippers’ hands. They seemed to not be able to hang onto the ball at times, giving Memphis ample opportunities to come back in the game.


On bench production:

Paul: “I love it. Blake and I aren’t normally going to be limited like this, but to have guys come off the bench and score effortlessly is big. These guys are our so-called “back-ups.” It’s fun to be a part of this.”

On Jamal Crawford’s performance:

Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins:  “He had an outstanding game and we had no answer for him.”

On letting the game slip away at the end:

Randolph: “We broke down on some defensive plays toward the end. We battled, but we have to give them a lot of credit and our team just has to get better.”

Notes: Matt Barnes (suspension), Grant Hill (knee), Trey Thompkins (knee) and Chauncey Billups (Achilles) did not play for the Clippers… In his first regular season game with the Clippers Lamar Odom had 6 rebounds and 4 blocks… The Clippers outshot the Grizzlies 51.4% to 38.4% from the field…There were seven lead changes and 10 ties in the back-and-forth game with the Clippers leading by as many as 12… The Grizzlies are 0-12 in season openers since relocating to Memphis.