Now the Clippers, after a franchise record 56 victories during the regular season and home-court advantage in the first round, are in trouble as Game 6 in Memphis looms Thursday.
“We’ve got to be desperate,” said guard Chris Paul, who tied his career playoff high with 35 points, but couldn’t find enough help. “That’s how it is. You say playoffs don’t start until somebody loses at home, I guess now it’s started. We lost here at home. Tried to come out with some energy but they beat us up again.”
Griffin was injured in practice Monday during a drill, when he made a layup and landed on Lamar Odom’s foot. It’s a high ankle sprain, the type that requires longer healing.
“It’s tough, but L.O. did a great job stepping up into that spot,” Paul said. “It’s got to be by committee. You don’t replace Blake Griffin with one person.
“It’s tough, but right now we’re in the heart of our season and we’re fighting for our lives. BG tried to give it a go and we knew he would. It’s a tough blow, but what can you do?”
Third quarter: Grizzlies 73, Clippers 65.
More of the same: Griffin had to leave for the locker room again, Conley (18 points), Randolph (15 points, nine rebounds) and Gasol (13 points) remained productive and Paul was doing everything he could to keep the Clippers in the game. Paul scored 10 more points, giving him 31 going into the fourth period. However, no other Clippers were in double figures. Rebounds: Clippers 33, Grizzlies 30.
Halftime: Grizzlies 54, Clippers 48
Paul’s 11 points in the period, including a 3-pointer in the final minute, gave him 21 points at halftime and saved the Clippers from a disastrous quarter. Griffin retreated to the locker briefly but was back on the Clippers’ bench early in the period and returned to the game with 7 minutes left. The Clippers were called for a defensive 3-second call three times in the period. Gasol’s baseline spin around Griffin for a three-point play enabled Memphis to open up a 46-40 lead with Griffin picking up his third foul on the play. Rebounds: Clippers 20, Grizzlies 19.
The lack of production the Clippers got from center DeAndre Jordan (four points, 10 rebounds) in the two games in Memphis might not have set off alarm bells, but it was a concern heading into Game 5.
“I don’t know if crossroads is the right (word) but there’s definitely a level you have to play at right now that is much different,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He has a much different responsibility now. He understands it. I haven’t seen the consistency that I like, he hasn’t seen the consistency he would like.”
Jordan played only 17 minutes in Game 4 and took only three shots. Meanwhile, Grizzlies front-liners Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 48 points and 22 rebounds.
“I didn’t see him controlling the game the way I thought he needed to and at that stage you have to go with someone you feel can,” Del Negro said. “Maybe Ryan Hollins could have played a few more minutes after looking at the tape.
“But those are decisions that are made during the heat of the battle and you go with your rotation as best you can. At this stage of the game you want to stay with your rotation, but if they’re not being productive, you have to look at other guys you have confidence in, that have produced throughout the series.”
Jordan took four shots in the first quarter Tuesday, more than he took in either game in Memphis. Del Negro listed what he expected from Jordan.
“Defensively, offensively, being a threat out there on the glass, using his length, athleticism,” Del Negro said. “But it’s up to him to get out there and earn his minutes and work through anything that’s thrown at him during the game.”
Each team was trying to figure why they played so well at home and struggled for the most part on the road.
They may have opposite playing styles, but few teams are as evenly matched.
“It comes down to executing well, the physicality and the intensity level,” Del Negro said. “There’s all different things. Why did we get them in the first couple and they turned around and got us? It’s part of the playoffs.
“We’ve played these guys a number of times, especially last year in the playoffs, so we know each other well. It’s going to come down to who can impose their will on the glass. We have to play a little bit faster tempo. We’ve been on the shot clock too much offensively, Gasol’s zoning up a lot defensively so we’ve got to make him pay for that a little bit.”
After the Clippers fell by 17 points in Game 4, in which they were a minus-17 on the boards, Clippers forward Matt Barnes was succinct in his assessment. “We got punked,” he said.
That wasn’t exactly met with disagreement from his coach.
“Well, when you look a the rebound differential, yeah,” Del Negro said. “We’ve shown we’ve been capable doing it but you can’t do it one or two games. It’s a series, you’ve got to win four. If that’s what it takes to get those guys going, that’s fine. But at the end of the day the numbers speak for themselves. There can’t be that big of a discrepancy and expect to win.”
Back home for Game 5 of a series that has been controlled by the home team, the Clippers know right where they stand against Memphis tonight at Staples Center.
In fact, Coach Vinny Del Negro went as far as to agree with the proposition that the winner of tonight’s game (Prime Ticket, TNT) will win the best-of-7 series.
“Probably so, yeah, it has a huge impact. This is the pivotal game,” Del Negro said. “We won there last year (in the playoffs) but we can’t look for another miracle, as you would say, so we have to take care of business tonight and we know that.
“In saying that, we’re an excellent road team, they’re an excellent road team, we know how difficult tonight’s going to be and we have to lock in tonight first and control our destiny tonight with our mentality and then we’ll worry about Game 6.”
For the umpteenth time, Del Negro stressed the importance of rebounding, since the team that has won the board battle has won each game. The Clippers will try to return to the form that helped them control front-liners Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the first two games.
The Clippers listed no players on the pregame injury report. Reserve guard Keyon Dooling (strained neck muscle) is listed as questionable.
Game 6 is Thursday night in Memphis and if there were to be a Game 7, it would be Sunday at Staples Center. The times for the those two games have not yet been determined.
Jamal Crawford took the news that New York’s J.R. Smith was awarded the NBA’s Sixth Man award Monday in stride, with Smith’s groundswell coming from a late-season push from the East Coast.
“Congrats to J.R. He had a heck of a season as well,” Crawford said, adding that he texted his best wishes to Smith. “There are definitely guys who are deserving. Jarrett Jack had a great season, Kevin Martin had a great season, J.R., myself as well so salute to all those guys.
“I can’t say I was shocked because I saw where it was going over the last couple weeks, I guess. I look at a whole season from start to finish, but I saw what people started kind of started going with toward the end.”
Crawford averaged 16.5 points per game off the bench this season and was third in the league in fourth-quarter scoring behind Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro pointed out Crawford’s obvious talent — scoring — but ran down a laundry list of other things the 13-year veteran brings.
“Makes plays off the dribble, teams double-team him, it opens up the court for other players, makes passes off the pick-and-rolls, plays with tempo, stretches the defense,” Del Negro said. “He’s given me a very good effort defensively, he’s given me a very good effort from day 1. All those things about him being a scorer — yeah, that’s what he’s known for and he’s really good at it, especially when he gets going. But all the other intangibles he’s been able to help us with helps us win games.
“He’s been a huge catalyst for us from day 1 and the whole season. It’s hard for me to look at it and say Jamal didn’t deserve that. But we can’t control the voting.”
Crawford, who won the award in 2011 with Atlanta, was glad he could atone for his performance in Portland last season, when he averaged 13.9 points and shot only 38 percent from the field.
“To be perfectly honest., coming into the season, winning the Sixth Man or All-Star wasn’t on my radar,” Crawford said. “It was more kind of getting my respect back because people thought I had lost a step going to Portland. That motivated me to come in and be ready this year. That was No. 1, and helping the team as best I can.”
— Hot seat coaches
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and Memphis coach Lionel Hollins both have contracts that expire at the end of the season and neither organization has extended. Both coaches won 56 games during the regular season.
“Players win games, coaches lose games,” Del Negro said. `I can’t control those things. What I control is the preparation of the team. All those things will be answered at the end of the season.
“I believe in what we’ve done here. I believe in my assistant coaches, who’ve done a phenomenal job. I’ve had great support from ownership and front office, (vice president of basketball operations) Gary (Sacks), (president) Andy (Roeser) and (director of basketball administration) Eric (Miller) and everybody to put the best team out there possible.”
Del Negro led the Clippres to their first Pacific Division title, a record 17-game win streak and club record 56 victories.
“You need players to win,” Del Negro said. “I’ve been pleased with the direction and keeping everybody pulling in the right direction. Those things will be answered at the end of the season. Right now, the focus should be on the playoffs, the players and the commitment to be succesful. All those things will be answered.”