Boom boom boom boom... in the words of John Lee Hooker the LA Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies faced off tonight at Staples Center in another Western Conference battle of the behemoths These two teams are probably not the best two teams in the west but they've had the toughest, most contentious series of the last two postseasons, they know each other all too well and have developed a significant-- and bitter-- rivalry.
Of course things are a little different this year, both teams have new coaches, no longer are we witness to the sartorial splendor of Vinny Del Negro, he of the wonderful hair and sleek checked suits, and Lionel Hollins, who wore pins and medals and pocket squares on his earth-toned double breasted numbers. I miss those guys tremendously. Of course Hollins might be the more significant loss... and the Griz come have started slow and come in at 5 and 5.
Memphis jumps out to another early lead at 25 to 13. The Clips look slow and can't hit anything through the first quarter. But with two minutes left (in the first) we see the most bizarre plays of the year when Tony Allen kicks Chris Paul in the face. First of all this feat features Allen's amazing athletic ability, he got his leg up as high as a ballet dancer, secondly, strangely, it didn't look like the kick was intentional... Paul also didn't milk the indignity... didn't even fall to the floor. But Allen was awarded a Flagrant Two and immediately ejected from the game. Clips earn a couple of points back and close to within nine by the end of the first. (Significant'y, Blake Griffin loses the early battle with Zach Randolph, earning an early spot on the bench with two fouls).
But with reserves primarily on the floor led by a running Matt Barnes and Darren Collison the Clips manage to shave the gap to four. Paul and Griffin re-enter and tie it at before Griffin goes back to the bench with his third foul. Clips down by two at the half. Not bad when Chris Paul and JJ Redick are both 1 for 6.
But the second half starts is more of the same. Actually it's a nightmarish reminder of last April when the Grizz pummeled the Clips in four straight in that brutal first round. The game pace favors the Grizzlies, the Clips can't get into their transition offense and Memphis clamps down onto the game with the grace and subtlety of a sleepy crocodile. Not pretty, not fun, but certainly effective.
The Clips lag behind through most of the third but finally catch the Grizzlies with three minutes remaining. The bench is better tonight. Matt Barnes uses his speed and smarts to energize the Clips and actually manages to give the Clips a short-iived two point lead with a minute to go in the third. That goes away but Collison hits a three and the game is tied at the end of the fourth at 81.
But from there things get worse instead of better. With Chris Paul resting on the bench the Clips find themselves down by six. Paul re-enters, and the Clips close it to two, but it just isn't the Clips night. they can't stop the Grizzly bigs, can't bag a rebound, and they aren't making shots on the other end. The Clips stretch the game out as long as they can, close to four with seconds left but can't squeeze through the door.
Some closing points:
- Griffin v. Randolph... a win for ZBo. He had sixteen at the half and kept Griffin in foul trouble until they move Griffin on to Gasol (where he picks up his fourth midway through the third). Randolph finishes with a game-high 26/15 to Griffin's 23/11. To a certain degree Chris Paul matches the performance on the other end, once Tony Allen's gone, Mike Conley is forced to cover Paul one on one and Paul continually runs Conley into the paint.
There isn't a whole lot more to say about this game. It's a tough loss for the Clips against a big Western Conference rival. But there's no time to dwell on it, the Clips get a night off and then there's a tough back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday on the road against the TWolves and the Thunder, who are both looking for revenge.