Clippers outlast Grizzlies to regain fourth seed
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers circled their final regular season game in Memphis as a huge opportunity to control home-court advantage in the postseason.
And they gained an edge by beating a Grizzlies team they could face next week in the opening round of the playoffs.
Chris Paul hit a free throw with 18.3 seconds left, and the Clippers edged the Grizzlies 91-87 Saturday night in a game before a sellout crowd soaked with playoff intensity.
"Now we control our own destiny," Paul said. "Before this, we had certain things that had to happen in order for us to move up. Now, if we want home court, we control it."
The Clippers won their fifth straight overall and took the season series 3-1 providing them the tiebreaking edge with both teams holding 54-26 records. Memphis held home-court advantage in the first-round series between the teams last year, and Los Angeles won Game 7 on the Grizzlies' home floor to advance.
This game puts them both one-half game behind Denver for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin said they talked all week about this game and how much they want home-court advantage.
"I like how we've played when we've come here," Griffin said. "Having home-court advantage is a plus on top of that."
DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers with 16 points, all in the first half. Paul finished with 13, Griffin had 12 and Willie Green 10.
Marc Gasol had 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Memphis. Zach Randolph finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Tayshaun Prince scored 13, and Mike Conley added 12 points and six assists.
Memphis came in with a one-game lead over the Clippers for the chance to start the postseason with home-court advantage and had won seven of its last eight. The Grizzlies lost that edge when they went cold for a couple stretches in the fourth quarter, including the last 3:33 when they scored only on Randolph's fallaway jumper with 23.5 seconds left.
"It's real frustrating because we needed this game," Randolph said. "But it is what it is. The real season starts next week, and we got to be ready whoever it may be. We just got to have our confidence to go in there whoever's here and be ready."
This game had all the intensity of the postseason with 15 ties, 10 lead changes and neither team leading by double digits.
"It was like the appetizer," Gasol said of this game with the postseason looming.
The Clippers had their biggest advantage at nine in the fourth quarter, using a 14-0 run to take control of the game for good. Memphis whittled that down to one point twice down the stretch. After Paul split a pair of free throws with 18.3 seconds left, Conley tried to past into the post and Griffin got a hand on the ball, tipping it to Matt Barnes with 3.8 seconds to go.
"You kind of knew it was coming inside, so I just worked my way around and was fortunate to get a hand on it," Griffin said. "I wish I could say I read it even more than that, and did something really cool, but nah, that was it."
Two free throws by Jamal Crawford provided the final score.
Everything about the game was close with the Grizzlies having a 48-46 edge in scoring in the paint and a 20-17 advantage on second-chance points, although the Clippers outrebounded Memphis 45-43. The Grizzlies had a 12-11 edge on fast-break points, but Los Angeles outscored Memphis 23-14 in the fourth.
"They're a great team," Crawford said. "They're coached very well. They play tough basketball. They grind it out. Every game against them has been tough. If we happen to see these guys in the playoffs, we're sure it will be a tough series again."
Memphis finished the third with five straight points to take its biggest lead at 73-68 heading to the fourth quarter. The Clippers answered with 14 straight points keyed by five apiece by Grant Hill and Eric Bledsoe. Ryan Hollins capped the spurt with a dunk for an 86-77 lead with 6:17 left.
The Grizzlies went scoreless for 3 minutes during that stretch before Randolph finally had a putback with 6:01 remaining for the first of eight consecutive points. The last was a free throw by Conley on a technical on Hill for a defensive 3-second call with 3:34 left, pulling Memphis to 86-85. Paul then hit a long 3-pointer with 3:00 to go to give the Clippers enough of a buffer.
NOTES: The Clippers improved to 41-4 when leading after the first quarter this season. ... The teams had their sloppy moments at times, but they each had only three turnovers apiece in the second half. ... The loss snapped Memphis' 13-game home winning streak with the Clippers handing the Grizzlies' their first home loss since Feb. 5 against Phoenix. ... The Grizzlies also missed a chance to set a franchise record for home wins. They are stuck at 31-9 with the season finale against Utah on Wednesday night their last chance to top the 31-10 mark of the 2003-04 squad. ... The Clippers now have won two straight road games, adding to their team record with a 23rd road win this season. .. Memphis went 6 of 21 in the fourth quarter. ... Memphis lost for the first time with a sellout crowd and now is 5-1 in such games.