LOS ANGELES — The Grizzlies may have given their best shot to the Clippers in Monday’s Game 2, correcting virtually all of the mistakes they made in the first game of the series.
Thanks to the buzzer-beating heroics of Chris Paul, however, everything Memphis had wasn’t good enough.
L.A. pulled out the thrilling 93-91 victory to give the Clippers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven first round series, and it’s difficult to see where the Grizzlies go from here.
Memphis got destroyed on the boards in Game 1, but managed to stay within two rebounds of L.A. in this one. The Grizzlies nearly matched the Clippers on the offensive glass, and outscored them in second chance points 15-11 after getting demolished in that category by 20 on Saturday.
For most of this game, the starting unit for the Grizzlies outplayed the starters for the Clippers. Memphis got off to strong starts in the first quarter and the third, and rallied late when the lineups for both teams largely featured the guys who play the most minutes. But the depth of the Clippers made all the difference.
Jamal Crawford got things started in the second quarter by splashing home an array of extremely difficult shots. Crawford had 10 in the period to help his team open up an eight point lead, and most wondered if the news earlier in the day that J.R. Smith was named the Sixth Man of the Year instead of Crawford might have had something to with that.
“Honestly, it’s more about winning than anything,” Crawford said. “I know a lot of people say, you know, go out there and prove why you should have been this or that, but you kind of feel like you’ve been proving it all season. So it’s not about that.”
Once the starters were back to start the third, Memphis made its run, and after falling behind by seven put together a 10-2 stretch to claim the lead, before the Clippers stabilized to take a four-point advantage into the final period.
L.A.’s bench went on a tear to start the fourth, thanks to key plays from Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom that pushed the lead to 12 with barely two minutes gone. But the run came much earlier than in Game 1, and with the improved aggressiveness and execution offensively that the Grizzlies had displayed for much of the night, it didn’t feel like it would hold the way it did last time.
Memphis regained momentum once the Clippers reserves had been left in a little too long. There were some wild offensive adventures from L.A. that resulted in turnovers or poor shot selection that allowed the Grizzlies to quickly get it back down to seven, before putting together a 13-6 run to tie it at 89, on the strength of some big shots from Conley and backup big man Darrell Arthur, who was getting some rare crunch time minutes.
“Well, [Zach Randolph] had five fouls and they were playing small so there was no use trying to go back big,” Lionel Hollins said of his decision to go with Arthur afterward. “They were playing a lot of pick and roll and Darrell did a nice job and made some nice plays.”
After Paul and Marc Gasol traded buckets, the game was tied again at 91 with 13 seconds left and the Clippers holding possession. Paul got the ball at the top of the three-point arc, isolated against the best defender the Grizzlies have in Tony Allen. Paul drove right, created some space, and got the incredible game-winning shot to bank home as time expired.
“We got the ball in, and what we tried to do was get Mike Conley to switch on me,” Paul explained. “So that’s why I screened for Jamal, because obviously Tony’s their best defender. They switched for a second, and Jamal threw it back to me and Tony came back to me, and played as good a defense as you could have. I looked up at the clock and thought to myself, I better get a shot off. So I just tried to attack and luckily I made the shot.”
It was a fantastic ending to what was the best game of these young playoffs so far.
“This game was tough,” Conley said. “We thought we played as good of a game as we could.”
In a series that many expected to go six or seven games, the Clippers might have shown in Game 2 that the best effort the Grizzlies can muster may not be enough to make it last that long.