This time, the fourth quarter belonged to the Memphis Grizzlies.
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Long the domain of the Clippers’ Chris Paul, it was the Grizzlies who rallied in the closing minutes to beat Los Angeles 90-88 and force a decisive seventh game in their playoff series.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph worked their inside-out game to perfection on a night when Paul and Blake Griffin were limited by injuries and the Clippers’ bench couldn’t quite put them over the top.
”This one has to hurt,” Paul said. ”If it doesn’t hurt, it means you don’t care.”
Gasol scored 23 points, Randolph had 18 points and 16 rebounds, and Rudy Gay and Mike Conley added 13 points each to help the Grizzlies win for the first time in the Western Conference series at Staples Center and stave off elimination.
”We were very focused on our task defensively and that’s a big reason we won,” said Gasol, whose brother Pau will play a Game 7 with the Los Angeles Lakers against Denver at Staples on Saturday night. ”We were way more disciplined. The whole team is doing a better job of finding me in the post.”
Griffin scored 17 points despite a sprained left knee that limited his jumping ability, and Eric Bledoe added 14 off the bench to lead the Clippers, who blew an eight-point lead in the fourth along with a second consecutive chance to close out what would have been a landmark playoff victory for the beleaguered franchise.
”Right now is not the time to start pointing the finger,” Griffin said.
Paul scored 11 points playing with a strained right hip flexor and a jammed right middle finger.
”I didn’t know he was hurt,” Randolph said. ”Everybody’s hurting. My knee is hurting. I ain’t looking for no excuse. You got to put that in the back and keep playing.”
The Clippers are seeking just the third playoff series win in franchise history. Game 7 will be Sunday in Memphis.
”It’s uncharted territory for us as a team,” Clippers second-year coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”We got to stay together, battle through it and give our best effort of the season.”
Only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series. Top-seeded San Antonio awaits the winner in the conference semifinals.
”All of this means nothing because it’s a one-game series,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. ”Everyone has a chance to win.”
Tied 66-all starting the fourth, the Clippers scored 10 straight to take their first lead since the game’s opening minutes, led by Bledsoe’s six points.
”It was looking bleak at that time,” Hollins said.
But the Grizzlies weren’t done.
They went on a 17-4 run, including 10 straight points, to take an 85-80 lead. Gay scored five in a row as the Clippers missed and Randolph came up with a big block. Conley hit a 3-pointer and Randolph tipped in the ball to close out the spurt.
”We stuck together and finished the game,” Randolph said. ”That’s what coach has been preaching.”
Griffin made two free throws before Randolph scored for an 87-82 lead. Conley fouled Paul, and he missed the first and made the second to leave Los Angeles trailing 87-83 with 56 seconds left.
The Clippers were forced to keep fouling, and the Grizzlies made 3 of 8 to stay alive. The Clippers’ Caron Butler missed a 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go as red-clad fans headed for the exits before Randy Foye hit a 3 with 3 seconds left.
Paul blamed himself for two fourth-quarter turnovers that led to Grizzlies baskets.
”I got to do better,” he said. ”We didn’t want to go back to Memphis, not `til sometime next season.”
Memphis opened the second half on a 12-8 run to extend its lead to 54-46, with Randolph having six points and Gasol four. Los Angeles answered with Paul bookending a 14-6 spurt that tied the game at 60. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan got in two huge dunks before Paul’s jumper from the right corner brought the Clippers all the way back from an eight-point deficit earlier in the quarter.
Paul said he began the game favoring his injured hip, while Griffin was trying to feel out his bum knee.
”I tried not to pick and choose (movements),” Griffin said. ”Sometimes there was a move I could normally make but not in these circumstances.”
Butler’s 3-pointer gave the Clippers their first lead, 63-62, since the game’s opening minutes. Griffin took the ball away from Gasol and fed Bledsoe for a layup that tied the game at 66 going into the fourth quarter.
”We just kept battling,” Hollins said. ”Our defense started collapsing and not giving them anything. That was the key.”
The Grizzlies led by nine points in the first half, when they outrebounded the Clippers. Paul twice drew the Clippers within one in the second quarter before Gasol’s three-point play extended Memphis’ lead to 42-38 at the break. Paul and Griffin combined for 12 points and six rebounds in the half, with Paul playing 18 minutes and Griffin 15. The Grizzlies had 13 turnovers in the half, when neither team shot well.
Notes: Gasol said he and his brother’s respective Game 7s on Sunday would be watched in their home country of Spain. ”They do love basketball,” he said. ”We got a whole country behind us.” … Reggie Evans was called for a technical in the second quarter, the 20th of the series and 13th for the Clippers. … Mo Williams, who scored 20 points for the Clippers in Game 5, had the middle and ring fingers of his right shooting hand taped and he scored just two points. … The Clippers’ bench outscored Memphis’ reserves for the fourth time in the series, 34-15. … The Clippers fell to 2-3 in the sixth game of a playoff series. … The Grizzlies improved to 2-2 in elimination game’s dating to last season’s playoffs.