The frustration was written on their faces with about 4½ minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Clippers knew they needed a big comeback Friday night, but it just wasn’t in them.
Their grand season of firsts ended with a 118-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, and the sight of Chris Paul leaving the floor with 2 minutes, 29 seconds left after getting his second technical foul is one that won’t disappear for a while.
The Clippers did their best to stay alive and force a deciding seventh game at Staples Center, but after winning Games 1 and 2 on their home court, they dropped four in a row to a Grizzlies team that turned out to be better, tougher and more resilient. So it’s the Grizzlies who will advance to play the Oklahoma City Thunder the Western Conference semifinals.
Here are three talking points from Game 6 that will linger:
1. Let’s get physical
The Clippers knew they’d have to assume a rough-and-tumble style against the Grizzlies, whose gritty style helped them take command of the series. But they didn’t expect it would turn into a foul-fest.
The Clippers were called for 33 fouls, sending Memphis to the line for 47 free throws. They were also hit with five technical fouls by Joey Crawford’s crew, including two on Paul that led to his fourth-quarter ejection.
And let’s not forget the wrestling match in the third quarter between Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin, who played almost 14 minutes despite a high right ankle sprain that threatened to keep him on the bench. Randolph got his arm around Griffin’s neck but wasn’t ejected.
Bottom line: The Clippers made 41 baskets compared to 36 for Memphis, but the Grizzlies converted 38 free throws.
2. Small ball helps comeback
The Clippers kept the game close through the first half but slipped back in the third quarter when the Grizzlies out-scored them 34-26. But coach Vinny Del Negro, desperate to find a combination that worked, went with an effective small lineup that included Paul, Willie Green, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom.
That group helped the Clippers close to 85-79 late in the third quarter, but Memphis went on a 7-0 run in the final 38 seconds before the buzzer.
Paul had 28 points, but Barnes was the Clippers’ most effective scorer, totaling a career playoff high 30 points on 11-of-14 shooting and 6-of-7 three-point accuracy.
Worth noting: Sixth man Jamal Crawford missed all five shots he took and played just 12½ minutes. That didn’t help.
3. Grizzlies can’t shoot from outside? They sure can
Memphis was one of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams during the regular season, which is precisely why they didn’t shoot much from long distance. But at times during the series – and Friday night – the Grizzlies made outside shots to blunt every Clippers comeback attempt.
In the fourth quarter, after Caron Butler scored from outside to move the Clippers to within six points with 5:15 to play, guards Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless hit consecutive three-pointers for a 111-99 lead with 3:06 left. Coney and Randolph scored 23 each for Memphis.
The Grizzlies converted 8 of 19 from three-point range, essentially crushing the Clippers’ late-game hopes – and their season.