Crawford powers Clippers in opener
The Los Angeles Clippers ended Memphis’ 2011-12 season with a gritty win in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
They began this season the same way — with another solid defensive performance against the Grizzlies — and instant offense from their new supersub, Jamal Crawford.
Crawford scored 29 points in 30 minutes in his first official game with his new club, and the Clippers converted 21 turnovers into 29 points Wednesday night in a 101-92 victory that extended the Grizzlies’ NBA-record streak of opening-night losses to 12.
Crawford, who signed with the Clippers as a free agent after averaging 14 points in 60 games last season with Portland, was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2009-10 with Atlanta.
"It’s like night and day from last year, honestly," Crawford said. "I haven’t felt like this since I was with the Knicks, mentally. I feel like I’ve found a home. The last few years I’ve basically played on one-year contracts. And that’s always tough. Some of the guys here called me and told me I was their number one option in free agency at the guard position. And when you feel wanted like that and see where the team is going and how you can fit it, it’s very cool."
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, who had 12 assists, were among six Clippers to score in double figures. The Clippers are 20-23 in season openers, 12-17 since moving from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984. The Grizzlies are 2-16 on opening night, 0-12 since the franchise shifted from Vancouver to Memphis in 2001.
"How many nights are you going to hold Blake to 10 points and me to 12? It’s fun to be a part of this, to have guys come off the bench like Jamal and score effortlessly," Paul said. "Me and Grant Hill have been trying to come up with a nickname for him — not `The Microwave,’ because that doesn’t really stay hot. So we’re trying to come up with something that does.
"Everybody knows what’s coming, but you still can’t stop it," Paul added. "I mean, he had 29 and Bled (Eric Bledsoe) was unbelievable — and those guys are our so-called `backups.’ I want to play every second of the game, but it’s fun to be on the bench and cheer guys on because the way they’re playing is exciting."
The Grizzlies, who haven’t won on opening night since their final season in Vancouver, got 25 points from Rudy Gay and 20 from Marc Gasol. Zach Randolph, who missed more than 2½ months last season after tearing the MCL in his right knee and undergoing surgery, had 15 points and 16 rebounds.
"We didn’t get defensive stops, and I didn’t play good," Randolph said. "We broke down on some defensive plays toward the end. We all have to put a whole game together in order for us to get a game like this."
Crawford gave the Clippers an 83-77 lead with a short jumper and a 3-pointer less than two minutes apart after they entered the fourth quarter trailing by four.
Memphis managed to stay close until Paul set up Crawford for a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:41 remaining for a 96-90 lead, after DeAndre Jordan grabbed a critical offensive rebound of Paul’s missed 3-point attempt.
Less than a minute later, Crawford was awarded a basket on a goaltending call against Mike Conley following a steal by Paul, who then threw alley-oop pass to Jordan for a nine-point lead with 1:05 to play.
"We had consistent defense, but you can’t guard fast breaks and alley-oops," coach Lionel Hollins said. "Jamal Crawford came off the bench and had an outstanding game for them, and we had no answer for him. They had 29 points on 21 turnovers, and that was huge for them."
The Grizzlies began their 18th season in the NBA under new management, following the announcement Wednesday that the $377 million sale of the club to a group led by California technology entrepreneur Robert J. Pera had been finalized and that the team will stay in Memphis. Pera’s group includes former NBA star Penny Hardaway, as well as actor and singer Justin Timberlake. The league’s board of governors approved the sale last Thursday.
The Grizzlies and Clippers both set franchise records for winning percentage during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, finishing 4-5 in the Western Conference standings. Memphis was 41-25 and Los Angeles 40-26.
The Clippers made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2006 and only the fifth time in Los Angeles. They were swept by San Antonio in the conference semifinals after beating the Grizzlies in the first round — a seven-game series that included a stunning 99-98 victory in Game 1 after the Clippers trailed by 24 points in the fourth quarter. They became the first team ever to win Games 1 and 7 on the road in a first-round series.
"I told the guys before we ran out there that when the schedule was released during the summer, I’m sure everybody with their team and everybody with our team felt this wasn’t a coincidence. I’m sure this was on purpose," Paul said.
"That’s a good team we just beat over there. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and chippy. I expected nothing less. I wasn’t expecting a blowout because that’s a playoff team that we beat. If anyone thought this was going to be a blowout, I’d say they were tripping."
Reserve forward Matt Barnes, who rejoined the Clippers on Sept. 14 as a free agent after playing the last two seasons with the Lakers, served a one-game suspension from the league.
The suspension stemmed from Barnes’ arrest in July on suspicion of resisting arrest and threatening a public official, which is a felony, after he was approached on foot by a Manhattan Beach officer who was aware that Barnes had an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor traffic violation. The 10th-year veteran pleaded no contest to the original misdemeanor charge last month at the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
After learning of his suspension on Tuesday, Barnes wrote on his Twitter page: "My suspension handed down by the NBA 2day is a (hash)JOKE, but best of luck 2 my team 2maro vs a tough Memphis team & ill be ready for Friday vs Lakers." … The Grizzlies exercised the fourth-year option on swingman Quincy Pondexter’s rookie contract, which will pay him $2.2 million next season. He was acquired from New Orleans last December for G Greivis Vasquez.