The Grizzlies refused to be pushed around, especially on their home court, and now they’re headed back to the Western Conference semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
Mike Conley and Zach Randolph scored 23 points each, and the Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Clippers 118-105 on Friday night to take the first-round series 4-2.
The Grizzlies had never won four straight postseason games before this series. They became only the 10th team in NBA history to win four straight after trailing 0-2 – the first to win the next four all by double digits.
They will open the second round at Oklahoma City on Sunday in a rematch of the franchise’s only other Western semifinal that the Thunder won in seven games in 2011.
”Now this series is over,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. ”It’s time to enjoy tonight and be ready tomorrow. It’s a quick turnaround, so we can enjoy tonight.”
Memphis finished with seven players in double figures. Tony Allen had a postseason-best 19 points, and Jerryd Bayless had 16.
Reserve Matt Barnes scored a career playoff-best 30 points for Los Angeles. Chris Paul had 28 points before being ejected with 2:29 left for crashing into Gasol off a missed free throw, though he shook hands with several Grizzlies before going to the locker room.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, whose contract is up after this season, said he didn’t understand how Paul could be thrown out of the game. Paul had never been ejected from the playoffs before, and he thanked an unnamed friend for reminding him to watch what he said to reporters.
”I got kids to feed,” Paul said.
Blake Griffin didn’t start because of his sprained right ankle, and he scored nine points in 13:56. Del Negro said Griffin’s ankle was as big as a grapefruit limiting him to a few minutes at a stretch. Paul also is a free agent July 1, leaving plenty of decisions to be made about where the Clippers go from here.
”This is not how we wanted it to end,” Griffin said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was on hand along with Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. Conley had old Ohio State teammate Greg Oden in the arena as well.
Having the commissioner on hand didn’t slow anyone down in a game featuring lots of headlocks and knockdowns with the only thing missing a steel cage as they combined for seven technicals.
Even Grant Hill had three fouls in 3 minutes in the first half, and Chauncey Billups got a flagrant-1.
”They came out threw and everything at us,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said of the Clippers. ”They played small. They played smaller. They pressed. They zoned. They gave hard fouls. They really competed. We held our poise. Held up mentally tough-wise and were able to get the win.”
Randolph was ejected, too, with 1:57 remaining. He tossed his headband toward the stands and celebrated as he walked to the locker room.
”I was just talking to the bench and exchanging words and (official) Joey (Crawford) he don’t play so he tossed me,” Randolph said with a slight smile.
The Clippers set a franchise record going 56-32 in the regular season, earning the No. 4 seed. They won the first two in Los Angeles but came into Game 6 trying to avoid being eliminated by the team they beat in seven in the first round a year ago.
They had hoped to force Game 7 back in Los Angeles on Sunday only to lose four consecutive games for only the third time all season.
”We took too long to come to the fight,” Paul said. ”We waited to Gam 6 to start to play aggressively and match their intensity. I don’t even know how many free throws they shot tonight. Maybe more than the field goal attempts that we got.”
It only seemed that way as the Grizzlies went 38 of 47 at the line while the Clippers shot 41 of 78 from the floor. Billups credited the Grizzlies for never letting them get into a rhythm or their Lob City run and gun approach.
”Because of that, we lose the series,” Billups said.
Los Angeles led only once – at 45-44 on Barnes’ fourth 3-pointer with 5:08 left in the second quarter. The teams had four more ties before Quincy Pondexter hit a 3 with 2:02 left putting the Grizzlies ahead to stay at 54-51.
The Clippers had one last run, a 10-1 spurt capped by Butler’s 20-foot jumper with 5:16 left pulling them within 103-97. Conley hit a 3 followed by a 3 from Bayless, and Randolph’s scored inside with 3:06 remaining to push the lead back to double digits at 111-99.
It was so physical that Hollins sprinted onto the court in the second quarter after Butler went over Gasol’s back for a rebound, leaving the Grizzlies center on the court pushing Butler’s leg away as he got up.
Billups had as many fouls (four) as points (four). He got a flagrant-1 in the third when he put his body into Conley trying to stop a fast-break layup attempt and putting his right arm around Conley’s neck as they went to the floor.
Conley hit the free throws, then hit a 3-pointer from the left corner giving the Grizzlies a 74-61 lead with 7:11 left.
After the bucket, Randolph and Griffin wrestled themselves to the court in a tangle of bodies. That earned the duo their fourth double-foul in this series with Randolph getting a technical.
Paul picked up his own technical from Crawford for his disgust when Randolph scored and picked up the foul.
Griffin said the tape will speak for what happened on that play but he felt a hand on his neck. Randolph said Griffin was pulling him down so he tried to brace for the fall.
And Griffin was called for a technical in the fourth when he knocked down Allen on a drive to the basket after the Grizzlies guard already had been fouled by Barnes. Bayless hit the free throw for the technical, and Allen added his two pushing the lead back to 97-87.
Notes: Hollins played for one of the nine teams that rallied from a 0-2 deficit. He was with Portland in 1977 when the Trail Blazers rallied to beat Philadelphia for the NBA championship. … The Clippers did manage to snap a streak by the Grizzlies. Memphis had held opponents to 25 points or fewer in the third quarter in 52 straight games since Jan. 14, a streak 25 games longer than any other in the shot clock era. But the Clippers scored 26 in the third. … Memphis went 23-1 in the regular season when scoring at least 100 points and is 3-0 in the postseason.