MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Those made-for-TV Clippers-Grizzlies cage matches went straight to local public broadcasting Thursday.
Los Angeles came to Memphis and dispatched the wounded Grizzlies 101-81 — Doc Rivers’ 600th career win — erasing the not-so-distant Grizzlies memories of Zach Randolph sarcastically hugging Matt Barnes and not-so sarcastically choking Blake Griffin during a playoff series win on this floor.
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Memphis went on to finish as the second-best team in the Wild West last season, but if the playoffs started tomorrow, it would not be in them. This series doesn’t have quite the same ring.
“It’s one game. It’s not a big deal,” Memphis guard Jerryd Bayless said. “Obviously we didn’t win. Everybody wished we would have won, but we’ve got to get ready for the next one.”
The next one is at home, too, Golden State Saturday. But home hasn’t been sweet for the Grizzlies (9-9). The loss dropped them to 4-6 in the confines, entering the game as the only Western Conference team with a better road record than home record.
Memphis was missing pieces, center Marc Gasol still out indefinitely with a sprained MCL and Tony Allen out with a hip contusion. Center Ed Davis scored six points in the first half, but left with a left ankle sprain.
“That’s the NBA,” Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said. “Ain’t too many excuses you can make. It’s an opportunity league. When guys go down, other guys gotta be ready.”
The league’s top-scoring Clippers have their own worries, Matt Barnes out a couple of weeks and J.J. Redick out maybe two months.
Randolph did play. He missed the last two games with an ingrown toenail, but started — despite the announced linenup to the contrary. He scored 12 points and had 12 rebounds. Kosta Koufos had a game-high 17, but the Clippers (13-7) placed six in double figures, Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison each with 15 off the bench.
“They’re different, but they were also missing some key guys tonight,” said Griffin, who had 14 points. “They’re still a tough team, a physical team, defensive team. They’re missing some guys, so it was kind of a different look.”
It wasn’t much of a different look for the fans, again leaving early in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand. Memphis led 42-40 at the half, but a 19-3 run put it out of reach. The Clippers shot 47.5 percent for the game, and hit 11-of-20 behind arc. Memphis was 3-of-13 from deep and shot 37.7 percent from the field.
It took a half for fireworks to begin, but Jerryd Bayless provided the spark. Early in the third quarter of a tight game, Bayless put a solid forearm into the chest of Griffin — he drew a Flagrant 1 for the effort. Griffin fell a few extra feet back, prompting a “flopper” chant.
That only prompted Randolph to inform Rivers that Griffin is “soft”.
Those moments go on the series highlight tape. The results will go on the record.
But the outcome is tough to weigh without Gasol and Allen. DeAndre Jordan — 10 points and 14 boards — controlled the inside without Gasol there. But Memphis has struggled with and without Gasol. Even when healthy, this team is still figuring out who can play where and for how long.
The spot the Grizzlies are in is not tough to weigh. In his postgame question-and-answer, Memphis coach Dave Joerger went through his top teams in the West, without mentioning his Grizzlies.
“They’re one of the five elite teams in the West,” Joerger said of LA. “Oklahoma City is really good, San Antonio, Golden State, LA Clippers. Who am I missing? Houston. We said that before the season. It’s not a shocker.”
Things were different, but the same. A slimmer crowd of 15,112 — maybe scared home with weather calls for incoming ice — booed Griffin every time he touched he ball.
In a game that has featured Barnes kicking a tray of chicken strips at the end of one of those playoff games, this one had that feel, too. There were no double foul calls between Griffin and Randolph, but Griffin and Koufos had a heated moment that drew Koufos a technical. Mike Conley gave Chris Paul a hard look after Paul grabbed him after a foul call.
And quiet Jon Leurer had a season-highlight dunk. But that was as exciting as it got for Memphis fans.
Griffin got a parting shot in the stands. On his way to the locker room, he took his towel and appeared to be ready to hand it to an asking fan, instead pulling the towel back in and going on his way.
That’s what makes this new rivalry fun. Memphis has a ways to go — and guys to get back — if it’s going to be fun again.
“It’s still intense, still a very intense game,” said Conley, who had 16 points. “Tonight they just wanted it more than us. Right now, we’re not in the top five or six. And we know that. We have to work our way back to that.”