Some of the faces had changed since last spring, but many of the sights were familiar. There was Eric Bledsoe, gumming up the Grizzlies' offense with his intense fullcourt pressure. There were Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin, turning basketball into a wrestling match. There was the Clippers' bench, thoroughly outplaying their Grizzlies counterparts. There was Tony Allen, playing fierce fourth-quarter defense on Chris Paul and Paul still finding a way to make plays. There was the Grizzlies' offense, falling apart down the stretch. And there were the Clippers pulling out a close win on the Grizzlies floor.
“They earned the game,” Lionel Hollins said afterward. “They played better than us. They had [fewer] lulls than us.”
Tony Allen attributed the difference to “effort” and called the loss “an eye-opener.”
The Grizzlies had their chances. After building a game-high five-point lead, the Grizzlies watched the Clippers go on a 14-point run in the fourth quarter, spurred by reserves Grant Hill (five points, a board, and a block, including a run-starting corner three) and Bledsoe (five points, an assist, three boards). This happened with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Tayshaun Prince all on the bench — something the Griz may want to avoid in the playoffs — and the Grizzlies clawed back when the full starting five returned, getting back to within a single point when Conley hit a technical free-throw on a Clippers defensive violation.
But the Grizzlies couldn't close. Randolph missed a step-back jumper over Griffin. Conley got into the paint only for Allen and Randolph to both miss point-blank attempts. Allen missed two free throws. Conley got a switch onto Griffin and missed a jumper.
Finally, a rare sight: Randolph, calling for the ball, getting it, spinning and hitting, cutting the deficit to one with the shot-clock off. A foul on Paul and a miss gave the Grizzlies the ball back, down two, with 18.3 on the clock. But it wasn't to be.
A Conley floater was swatted by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. A Conley post feed to Randolph was poked away and stolen. And that was pretty much it.
Marc Gasol, who finished with 18 points (7-14 shooting), 15 rebounds, and 7 assists — team highs all — had one fourth-quarter attempt as the Grizzlies' offense produced only 14 points. There's something else that was familiar.
There's plenty to learn from this one, but something tells me I'm going to be writing quite a bit about the Grizzlies-Clippers match-up in the next couple of week. So, to use one of Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace's favored clichés, I'll keep my powder dry for now.
The playoff standings for the 3-4-5 seeds after tonight:
For the Grizzlies to finish third (in the most likely scenario), they'd need to win their final two games, have the Clippers lose one, and the Nuggets lose two.
For the Grizzlies to have homecourt advantage in a 4-5 match-up, they'd need to win their final two games and have one of the other two outcomes happen.