The Memphis Grizzlies believe they finally played their grinding, bruising style of basketball in the playoffs.
Just in time, too.
Marc Gasol scored 23 points and Zach Randolph added 19 as the Grizzlies avoided elimination by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 92-80 on Wednesday night, forcing a Game 6 in the Western Conference first-round series.
“We’ve had our backs against the wall. We still have them,” said Gasol, who had his best game in this series. “We haven’t done anything yet, and we want to take it back to L.A. and give them another big battle.”
With Gasol and Randolph scoring early, the Grizzlies looked like the team that knocked off top-seeded San Antonio last spring and took Oklahoma City to seven games in the conference semifinals as they pulled within 3-2 in this series.
Game 6 is Friday night in Los Angeles. If the Grizzlies can win, Game 7 would be Sunday in Memphis. Not that the Clippers plan on returning to Tennessee.
“Our Game 7’s Friday,” Clippers guard Mo Williams said.
The Grizzlies sound equally confident, feeling they should have won Games 1 and 3.
“There’s no point leaving home if we don’t know our way back,” Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo said. ” We can’t look at Sunday because we have to make sure we get back home after Friday night.”
Rudy Gay added 14 points for Memphis.
The Clippers said Paul strained his right hip flexor, while the guard also jammed a finger. Griffin sprained his left knee.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said both players were being further evaluated after the game.
Paul almost single-handedly gave the Clippers a chance to close out this series in Game 5 by scoring eight of his 27 points in overtime of Game 4 and leading L.A. to the win.
This time, the four-time All-Star guard had just five points by halftime and scored nothing in the fourth quarter. He was grimacing early in the fourth quarter and was on the bench with the injured right groin. An injured groin kept him out of the Clippers’ regular-season finale, a loss to New York that cost Los Angeles the No. 4 seed.
The Clippers came in needing a win to clinch their first series since 2006 and advance to a second-round series against top-seeded San Antonio. But even though Paul has plenty of postseason experience, this was the first close-out game for the likes of Griffin, Randy Foye and DeAndre Jordan.
Los Angeles last led at 17-16 before a fast-break layup by Tony Allen that was set up by a long pass from Gasol put Memphis ahead to stay at 18-17 with 5:40 left in the first quarter.
“We’ve got to do a better job keeping our composure a little bit,” Del Negro said.
The Clippers closed the third quarter with a 14-2 run and got within six twice to conjure up memories of Memphis blowing a 27-point lead in Game 1. Foye pulled the Clippers within 85-79 on a layup with 55.7 seconds left.
“You could hear the crowd getting quieter and quieter,” Foye said.
With CP3 on the bench, that was as close as the Clippers would get.
“We made enough plays and got enough stops tonight that kept us ahead,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “In the past, they kept making shots, and we haven’t been able to stop them. So even though our offense wasn’t perfect, we got enough stops.”
Hollins didn’t give his Grizzlies any credit for slowing down Paul.
“I thought he did a good job of containing himself when he got hurt and went to the bench,” Hollins said.
In the arena nicknamed the Grindhouse in honor of the Grizzlies’ blue-collar style, Memphis pounded the ball into the paint and banged on the Clippers all game. The Grizzlies outscored Los Angeles 48-26 in the paint and had a 42-35 edge in rebounds.
Jordan said the Clippers knew the Grizzlies would force the ball inside to Gasol and Randolph early.
“They got a lot of easy post touches at the beginning of the game,” Jordan said. “Throughout, a lot of their shots were contested, but once you get a groove and get comfortable, the shots become comfortable.”
Griffin twice limped to the bench, once late in the first quarter with what appeared to be a ripped shoe. Then he went down under the basket late in the third after his legs tangled with Gasol’s, and Griffin kept rubbing and holding his left knee. He walked gingerly to the bench but returned. It was the same knee that cost him his first season in the NBA.
Del Negro said both Paul and Griffin said they could go back in the game, so they did until Paul started hobbling a bit at the end.
Gasol scored 12 points in the first quarter. Randolph, who looked nothing like the double-double machine of last season’s playoffs, hit his first six shots in scoring 15 points while grabbing five rebounds as Memphis led 36-22 at the end of the first quarter.
The Grizzlies led 57-42 at halftime and led by as many as 24 before the Clippers tried to make it interesting again.
This physical series went to a new level in the second quarter when Eric Bledsoe of the Clippers ran over to defend Quincy Pondexter and bumped him to the court. Bledsoe then heaved the ball up into the air, drawing a technical foul. That was the first of five for the Clippers, with four coming in the third quarter as Paul, Williams and Del Negro let their frustration boil over.
The Clippers have been called for 12 technicals in this series and the Grizzlies seven. … Los Angeles’ Caron Butler, playing with a broken left hand, had seven points in the first quarter. He finished with eight after missing his last five shots. … Agent Jimmy Sexton and Dontari Poe, the first-round draft pick by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, sat courtside next to the Clippers’ bench. Titans safety Robert Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner were in the stands.
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