MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis is going back to Cali feeling a lot better than it did when leaving last week in an 0-2 hole. The Grizzlies dominated once more Saturday at home and beat Los Angeles 104-83 to even the Western Conference series at two games apiece.
Here are three observations on an intense series shifting back to the West Coast.
1. This series, now knotted up, is as intense off the court as on.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said pregame that a win meant “even-stevens.” Now it’s a best-of-three series headed back to L.A., with each team winning two at home. The basketball has been intense, but so has the energy from the stands (and press row).
Memphis’ FedExForum — aka The Grindhouse — was sold out for the 12th straight playoff game. The majority of the 18,119 here were once again chanting “Beat L.A.” before the tip. One sign in the stands read: “Beat the Mother Floppin Clippers.” There was a “Rudy (Gay) Who?” as well.
After the Grizzlies’ victory in Game 3, Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers wrote a scathing piece about his distaste for the entire city of Memphis. After Saturday’s game, Clippers forward Matt Barnes kicked either a trash can or some sort of food holder that strew food all over the concrete en route to the Clippers locker room. Then came reports that food may have been thrown at Clippers players. Barnes reportedly gave his team a pride-challenging postgame talk.
“Nothing’s malicious out there, but it’s a dog fight,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “Both teams fighting for their playoff lives. Refs not gonna give us nothing. Other team’s not gonna give us nothing.”
2. It’s Memphis’ glass and the Clippers weren’t invited to share.
Rebounding has determined the outcomes of each of the first four games of the series. It did again. Memphis out-rebounded Los Angeles 45-28, 13-5 on the offensive glass. It started early for Memphis. One of its four first-quarter offensive boards went from Marc Gasol to Mike Conley from deep. When Zach Randolph boarded a Tony Allen miss and scored, Memphis led 18-8 and L.A. took its first timeout. Memphis held a 25-14 edge at the half (8-1 on the offensive end). The total led to a 22-2 advantage on second-chance points.
“Us guards got to get in there and help rebound,” said Paul. “I didn’t want to come back here by any means, by any means.”
Ronny Turiaf got the Cippers’ only offensive rebound of the first half at the 9:21 mark of the second quarter.
Gasol had 13 of Memphis’ rebounds and 24 points. Randolph tied that game-high point total. Gasol, the NBA’s Defenisve Player of the Year had six points at halftime. He scored 14 in the third, including a Forum-reviving jumper with 0.6 left on the shot clock. Memphis went on a 30-12 run and Conley’s 25-footer gave it an 88-72 lead. In the fourth quarter, Gasol scored back-to-back to keep the Grizzlies’ lead at nine after Jamal Crawford’s three-pointer cut it to six. A 19-5 run to open the fourth quarter all but sealed it for the Grizzlies.
A lot of Memphis’ success came via Tayshaun Prince. Prince had 10 points in the first three games. He had nine by halftime Saturday and finished with 15. Conley had a playoff-franchise record 13 assists. He had 10 in Game 3, and he had only two turnovers in the two games.
3. The Clippers’ bench does it again, but …
Los Angeles trailed by as many as 12 in the first half before taking a 47-46 lead to the break on Paul’s near-buzzer beater. L.A. can again thank its multi-talented bench for keeping it the game in the second and third quarters. The second unit outscored the Grizzlies 25-6 in the half and 43-16 for the game.
The Clippers’ bench points weren’t enough to overcome their 41 percent shooting and if low-scoring Memphis is going to put up triple digits, 83 won’t cut it for Los Angeles. Memphis’ total points came despite a 13-point output in the second quarter.
Memphis put all five starters in double digits, plus Quincy Pondexter scored 10 off the bench. It’s defense held Los Angeles starters Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups scoreless, a combined 0 for 10 shooting. DeAndre Jordan had two points. Paul and Blake Griffin had 19 each.
“That’s what it’s going to take. Not just that, but a little more in order to win in L.A.,” Gasol said. “And we need a win over there.”
Memphis will have to win one there if it wants to win the series. Two of the final three would be at Staples.