Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Kenyon Martin, Blake Griffin

Grizzlies steal Clippers’ script — come from behind to win, force Game 7

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In the first four games of this series, Chris Paul owned the fourth quarter, while at the same time the Grizzlies would get away from their game plan of pounding the Clippers inside with Zach Randolph. It’s why Los Angeles had a 3-1 series lead.

There will be a Game 7 Sunday because that script has flipped.

Paul, playing through an injured hip flexor, was a shadow of himself in the fourth quarter of Game 6 Friday — 0-1 shooting, no assists and two key turnovers when the score was 80-80 that led to a 5-0 Memphis run and lead the Grizzlies  never relinquished. On the other end, Randolph has 7 points and 4 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.

The result was a 90-88 Grizzlies win that brings them back from 3-1 and forces a Game 7 in Memphis Sunday.

And it is the status of Chris Paul’s hip and Blake Griffin’s knee that may have the biggest say in the outcome of Game 7. If it is the same Paul and Griffin, the Clippers are in a world of trouble on the road.

“I started off the game not sure about (his injury), but I can’t do that Sunday,” Paul said. “Sunday you got out there scrap, claw, whatever.”

Paul was clearly hurting early on and was tentative running the offense. Griffin wasn’t the same guy (but did hit a couple baseline 20 footers Memphis would have let him take all night healthy). The Grizzlies were slow to really try to exploit the pair but did eventually, went on a 14-4 run and took a little lead.

Looking for something, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro switched up and went with an energy lineup that included Reggie Evans and Eric Bledsoe. It wasn’t pretty, but they were outworking Memphis all over the court. It changed the energy on the floor and in the building. Memphis responded to it with some ridiculous passes and turnovers — 13 in the first half — that kept the Clippers close when Memphis should have pulled away.

Clipper fans have taken to Reggie Evans as their fan favorite — they love everything about him. They love his energy, his flops, his ugly offense and all. Fans love a guy that just plays harder than everyone else, and nobody in the league comes in and sells it harder than Evans.

There was a real sense of hope when Paul returned and looked like his old self at the end of the second quarter, with penetration and smart passes. But that was a mirage.

The third quarter saw Memphis get back to its game plan of going inside — Marc Gasol had 23 points for the second straight game — however the Clippers energy level remained high and the game stayed close. It was tied 66-66 entering fourth.

The Clippers at one point went on 10-0 run sparked by Eric Bledsoe and had an eight-point lead, but Memphis answered with a 10-0 run sparked by Rudy Gay knocking down shots you know coach Lionel Hollins didn’t want him to take.

When it was tight late it was the Grizzlies executed and the Clippers could not — Paul was being cut off in the lane, Randy Foye was taking leaning jumpers (and missing), Foye was also stepping out of bounds on rebounds, Eric Bledsoe was taking the most shots (five), and the bounces and calls went Memphis’ way mostly. Meanwhile the Grizzlies for once stayed true to who they are and just kept going inside.

“It boiled down to just understanding their sets, going through our guys who had it going, execution on the offensive end, from the plays coach drew up…” Tony Allen said. “Down the stretch we just clawed and clawed.”

Leading into Game 7 the players are going to talk about clawing and executing and all of it. Both teams will talk about their role players stepping up (that usually happens for the home team in the playoffs).

But it will be the status of Paul’s hip and Griffin’s knee that may have the biggest say. If CP3 is himself again, all bets are off.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.