On the night Lou Williams handed out a career-high 13 assists, the unrecorded 14th came Kobe Bryant-style, a floater off iron that was flushed by dance partner Montrezl Harrell for the lead with 2.3 seconds remaining and, ultimately, a 121-119 victory.
With Kawhi Leonard taking his usual injury-management DNP on the second leg of a back-to-back, Lou shook off early shooting struggles to control yet another fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his team-high-tying 24 points and stealing victory from the jaws of Pelicans-like defeat.
This game was tight, with both clubs trading shots while submitting neatly symmetrical box scores. Check the 46.3% field goal shooting for the Clippers against the Grizzlies’ 46.7%. Memphis scored 60 points in the paint to edge the Clippers’ 58. They each secured 13 offensive rebounds.
This game was also weird, because it was the Clippers and the Grizzlies in Memphis and apparently it’s fated to be. These teams traded gaffes like they did the lead. Patrick Beverley couldn’t inbound the ball within the five-second limit. Ja Morant barely crossed half court in his eight. Terance Mann stole an after-basket inbounds pass and dunked. Patrick Patterson FLEXED. (All 10 of his points came in a torrid third-quarter run.)
The two teams even relied on matched sets of de facto big threes. The Clippers added productive performances from Montrezl Harrell and Paul George to Lou’s to carry the night. Harrell’s final tip-in brought his scoring total also to 24, and his hard-charging runs highlighted the Clippers’ relentless forays into the enemy paint. George added a smooth 22 with four threes, the last of which gave LA the lead and capped a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback.
Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol they are not, but Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jonas Valanciunas submitted their best impressions, with some variations added for good measure. But even their fresh legs and full box scores weren’t enough to stop the Clippers from earning a seventh consecutive win.
The Clippers lived dangerously, handing the Grizzlies a 9-2 lead to begin the game and coming out similarly flat to start each successive quarter. They also let their spry opponents dictate the pace, sprinting alongside the baby bears to a 35-31 first quarter in which the two teams combined for 38 points in the paint. Fans of rim protection would be disappointed.
Fans of bearded European Grizzlies centers would not be, as Valanciunas mauled LA big men for game highs in points (30) and rebounds (16). His +14 plus-minus paced both teams. He sent Ivica Zubac to the bench (and back into Doc Rivers’ doghouse) with three of his seven offensive rebounds in the early third, just part of a dominating showing that included two three-pointers. (Zubac, who scored 6 of his 10 points in a sprightly first quarter, wouldn’t be heard from again.)
Morant, the sensational rookie who was questionable to play the game after falling scarily into a cameraperson on Monday, did his downhill Conley impersonation in Lou-time. But Ja is posting rookie performances Conley never did, and his 14-point outburst in the fourth quarter opened more eyes while nearly closing the game. His 11 assists evinced his central role in the offense.
Ja’s fellow youngster, Jaren Jackson, showed off his own versatile floor game, scoring 17 points with three baskets from deep. Unfortunately for him and for his team, his ninth and final attempt was blocked by Maurice Harkless with 0.2 ticks left, spending Memphis’s last attempt at victory for naught.
Patrick Beverley’s only mention shouldn’t be of his rare miscalculation. He assumed much of Kawhi’s playmaking load, penetrating the Grizzlies’ defense to find and create passing lanes for his 11 assists.
That extra bit of playmaking and veteran care-taking — a 30:16 assist:turnover ratio against Memphis’s 26:20 — pushed the Clippers past their young hosts and overcame what were surely tired legs (and brains) in the process. In the closing moments, the Grizzlies actually looked like the depleted ones. Perhaps it was the fatigue of lessons learned and a rivalry briefly resumed.
The Clippers complete their three-game road trip in San Antonio on Friday night.