MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies were each missing a star Monday night.
Memphis missed its star way more than Los Angeles.
Without Chris Paul, day-to-day with a bruised right kneecap, the Clippers seemingly had no problem beating Memphis, 99-73, at FedEx Forum.
Without Rudy Gay, at his grandmother’s funeral in Maryland, Memphis (24-12) scored a season-low and shot just over 30 percent. Los Angeles (29-9) showed just how deep its bench goes and how little it drops off, offensively and defensively.
“We contested a lot of shots. We were on our rotations a lot and just put a hand in their face,” said Blake Griffin. “It’s hard to stop a team when you don’t know who’s going to be the focal point.”
Griffin had only 10 points in less than 25 minutes due to foul trouble but it was a defensive and offensive clinic from the Clippers’ entire roster. Los Angeles’ bench outscored Memphis’ starters 54-47.
Four Clippers scored in double digits. The game’s two leading scorers, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford, each scored their 16 points off the bench.
Eric Bledsoe started for Paul and scored 14 points and had four assists.
“Some nights we have some of our main guys doing a lot of scoring. Some nights we have guys off the bench lead us in scoring,” Griffin said, “Jamal, Matt, Caron (Butler), Willie (Green), Lamar (Odom) comes in, Grant (Hill) now, DeAndre (Jordan) and it goes down the list. It makes us tougher to stop. But it starts on defense first.”
There were plenty of available seats in the lower section of the Forum. Frigid Memphis temperatures and icy roads may have kept fans away but the Clippers put on a show for the ones who came. The Grizzlies scored a season-low 34 points in the first half and its 73 points came few and far between despite a season-high 24 offensive rebounds.
Gay and Zach Randolph have been recent names in trade talks. Randolph had 15 points and 12 rebounds to keep the NBA lead in double-doubles but Memphis lost by 20-plus for the second straight game. The Clippers won the opener of a three-game road trip.
“They have a lot of stuff going for them. That’s why I said before the game that they’re the best team in the West,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said, “maybe the best team in the league right now.”
The Clippers led by as many as 27 points and their bench was laughing it up in the fourth quarter. Green was the only starter playing by then. Paul and Chauncey Billups were laughing together in street clothes and Griffin wrapped his arm around anyone who sat beside him.
It was the worst defeat Memphis has had at the hands of the Clippers.
Los Angeles had a pair of runs in the first half. Tied at 17, the Clippers went on a 15-2 run. A 17-4 run closed the half and they took a 53-34 lead into the locker room.
“I think our bench came in and did a good job,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Jamal got going. Matt hit a couple shots. We were just active I thought, just a solid team effort, good performance from a lot of guys.”
Griffin sat the final 6:33 of the first half after picking up his third foul. Paul did some coaching from the sidelines.
“He’s always talking and coaching, even when he’s playing, but it’s good to have his insight and perspective,” said Crawford, who helped the early run with a steal. “We have a great chemistry. I think that’s what makes our team special. Guys are really happy for each other. Nobody cares about who gets the credit. We’re more concerned about winning.”
Crawford’s steal in the second quarter led to a 30-19 lead. He forced a jump ball with Marc Gasol, but stole a pass after Gasol got an easy tip. Crawford got it to Hill in the lane and Hill fed an open Barnes for 3. Ronny Turiaf then stole the ball and Crawford found Hill in the lane. Hill finished for the 11-point lead and Memphis took a timeout.
Ryan Hollins took an alley-oop from Green late in the game and Los Angeles took a 95-68 lead.
Griffin wasted no time in dunking. Memphis missed the game’s first shot and Griffin took the ball the length of the court. Hill was playing in his second game of the season due to lingering knee problems. The 18-year veteran liked what he saw from third-year point guard Bledsoe.
“He played a really solid game. We need that from him while Chris is out, but also when Chris comes back,” Hill said. “Bled is a weapon that we need to utilize and tonight he was big.”
Memphis turned the ball over 14 times and it took the Grizzlies 3 minutes, 20 seconds to score in the second quarter. By the time Randolph ended the run, the Grizzlies were down 13.
Mike Conley’s 3-pointer cut Los Angeles’ lead to 36-30 but the Clippers scored the next six before closing the half with 17 of the final 21 points.
“Obviously we did not have Rudy, but that’s no excuse,” Darrell Arthur said. “The game just got out of hand. Blake got that dunk at the beginning of the game and they set the tone. We couldn’t get back into it.”