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Clippers Hang On Against Pesky Underdog Grizzlies, Chip Away an Important Victory

Better a victory in a huge game than a huge victory in a game.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It certainly wasn't pretty. But then, when has a game against Memphis ever been? Never mind that the Grizzlies came in down two starters and lost a third before the end of the first quarter, or that they played last night in a draining game on the road against a solid Jazz team. They came in tonight and refused to let the Clippers put them away — and the Clippers were okay with that. But in the crucial minutes, Los Angeles turned up the booster rockets and won a game where they played far from their best. At this time of the year, a win's a win, and you don't try to take that away from the Clippers.

Coming in on a SEGABABA, minus Mike Conley and Tony Allen, this had the makings of a schedule loss written all over it for Memphis. And it seemed like that might be the case earlier in the first quarter, as Los Angeles came out to a raucous home crowd and wisely chose to pick up the pace early against a beleagured Grizzlies squad. But Memphis refused to go away quietly, and once the bench peeked its head into this game, it became a forlorn conclusion that the game was far from safely in the Clippers' hands.

Another run midway through the third gave the Clippers the first double-digit lead of the game, but it spawned a 10-0 Memphis run of their own to keep the game tight. But the starters returned midway through the fourth, and confidently put this one into the season standings, taking it 94-86. The Clippers now hold the #3 seed and the tiebreaker against Memphis, should the Grizzlies fall out of the division lead. With two games left, there's still so much uncertainty for any team, and even though Memphis is still the #2 seed they could just as easily end up at #6.

That's definitely possible, considering that Memphis continued to rack up injuries tonight. Marc Gasol went out in the first quarter and did not return, causing the Grizzlies to give significant minutes to Jordan Adams and JaMychal Green. The Clippers almost had an injury of their own, when Matt Barnes was stepped on during a fast-break opportunity, causing him to miss the rest of the first half. He returned later, though, and continued where he left off. Barnes was especially good in transition tonight, finishing multiple plays smoothly slashing to the rim.

Chris Paul and J.J. Redick were as brilliant as ever, warping the defense and creating highlight plays for others. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan had an off night captaining the defense, as Memphis used slick interior passing to time and time again beat the Clippers inside. But his offensive value was immeasurable, and the team suffered in his absence on that end. This was one of his best lobbing nights of the season, in my estimate. The standout play among these was a touchdown pass caught by Matt Barnes (a heave from J.J. Redick), who immediately threw it back up for DAJ to finish.

On the other side, Zach Randolph did his best Marc Gasol impression, but it wasn't quite enough to lead the shorthanded Grizzlies to victory. Memphis had a commendable effort keeping the game close for so long, but their exhaustion showed as the game went on. Guys

With the Clippers win, Memphis falls to a three-way tie for the second seed in the West, which they currently hold on tiebreakers. The Clippers moved up at long last to third place, and provided they win out the next two games, they can finish no lower than that. They'll need a little help from Memphis and friends if the pipe dream of second seed is to come to fruition, but that seems unlikely.

Other Notes

I'm adding this section in on a Sunday morning, as the recap that went up last night was riddled with errors and poor writing. Here's some stuff I missed from last night.

  • The starting five played 28 minutes together and went +21 over that stretch. Every other unit combined to go -13.
  • The bench unit still looks awful, especially on possessions when they can't get anything going and end up kicking it out to Jamal to throw up a 30-footer at the end of the shot clock (happened multiple times last night). This could be alleviated a bit if Hedo Turkoglu wasn't such a black hole; for a player who was once such a terrific passer, you rarely see him take advantage of those gifts anymore. Spencer Hawes needs more post touches and I'm beating a dead horse.
  • Hawes actually didn't play in the first half last night, causing fans to wonder whether this could be his first DNP-CD, a huge fall from the expectations after he was signed under the MLE last summer. I wasn't shocked, since it was entirely due to matchups — Memphis ran out a lineup with Nick Calathes, Jordan Adams, Vince Carter, Jeff Green, and Kosta Koufos, and it didn't make sense to counter that with a two-big lineup. When Memphis started the fourth quarter with JaMychal Green and Zach Randolph, it made sense to play Hawes, and he got a few minutes and didn't look terrible.
  • We got a throwback moment in the third quarter when Koufos and Griffin got tangled up, resulting in double technicals. Koufos started it by pulling down Griffin under the hoop, but Blake let himself fall on top of Koufos and stayed there for an extra second or two. When Koufos angrily pushed him off, Blake got up and was ready to go with Koufos. The pair had to be restrained by Zach Randolph and Matt Barnes, of all people.
  • There was a lot of chippiness in this game, but surprisingly most of it seemed incidental. Matt Barnes got raked over the eye, Jeff Green hit DJ in the face but also took an elbow of his own, Beno Udrih got smacked in the throat by Blake, etc.
  • Clips Nation staffers got to go to the game and hang out. At least, the ones in Los Angeles did. Meanwhile, I got stuck out here in Pennsylvania all by my lonesome. Next time, do something that's convenient for all of us, Steve!