LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Just 16 games into their new partnership, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are already capable of grinding out victories for the Los Angeles Clippers on nights when nothing seems to work properly.
They are both certain the Clippers will find their flow pretty soon.
Griffin scored 20 points, Paul added 18 points and seven assists in his second game back from injury, and the first-place Clippers hung on in the fourth quarter for a 98-91 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.
Mo Williams scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Griffin added nine rebounds and eight assists as the Clippers maintained a narrow lead throughout the final period despite feeling little cohesion on either end of the court.
“That’s how we have to execute down the stretch,” Griffin said. “It’s a good win against a great team. We shouldn’t be down on this win at all. They’re not all going to be pretty.”
Caron Butler scored 17 points, and Paul also had seven rebounds while playing back-to-back games after missing the previous five with a strained left hamstring. DeAndre Jordan had nine points and nine rebounds as the Clippers bounced back from Wednesday’s contentious loss to the Lakers, dropping that rivalry game after holding the lead for nearly every possession of the first 3 1/2 quarters.
The Clippers’ new nucleus is still learning how to respond to adversity, and Paul thinks this gritty win over a strong playoff contender should help.
“Sooner or later we’re going to learn, because these little opportunities can slip away from you,” Paul said. “We’ve got to build up as many wins as possible, and it feels good for me to be out there. I’ve got to keep the energy going. Every game means so much.”
The Clippers stayed atop the Pacific Division even during Paul’s absence, and they bounced back solidly from Wednesday’s emotional loss to the Lakers, but a tougher schedule looms for a franchise with just one winning season in 19 years. No team in the Western Conference has played fewer games than the Clippers — including 11 in front of sellout home crowds.
Los Angeles did it this time with defence, holding the Grizzlies under 36-per cent shooting and scoring 24 points off Memphis’ 17 turnovers.
“We kept them at a low field-goal percentage, but they made us earn everything,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I was pleased with the way we got stops at the end when we needed to. Different guys stepped up.”
Rudy Gay scored 24 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost two straight following a seven-game winning streak. Marc Gasol added 18 points and 11 rebounds on Memphis’ third stop on a four-game West Coast trip.
Gasol’s two free throws trimmed the Clippers’ lead to 91-89, but Butler hit a driving layup, and Paul made two free throws after a steal with 45 seconds left. Although Griffin didn’t score in the fourth quarter, the Clippers scored seven consecutive points in the final minute to seal their third straight win over Memphis.
“None of it was their defence,” Gay said. “It was us. I mean, they do have some long athletic big men that alter a couple of shots. But for the most part, we were getting good shots and just weren’t knocking them down.”
The Grizzlies had a day off after their loss in Portland on Tuesday in their fourth game in five days. Gay managed just 11 points against the Trail Blazers, but surpassed that well before halftime against the Clippers.
Paul made a four-point play during an early 11-0 run by the Clippers, who jumped out to a 27-11 lead late in the first quarter. Rudy Gay made a 50-foot shot at the first-quarter buzzer as the Grizzlies made a 14-0 run of their own, keeping it close into the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t get any stops down the stretch,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We were within three, and every time they came back down, they got it back to five. We never got a stop where we could get a chance to take the lead.”
NOTES: Both teams wore throwback ABA uniforms. The Clippers dressed in the baby-blue-and-red gear of the Los Angeles Stars, while the Grizzlies sported the Memphis Tams’ gold jerseys and green shorts. Starting in 1972, Charlie Finley dressed his newly purchased basketball team in the same colours worn by his Oakland Athletics and the NHL’s California Golden Seals. … Before the game, the Clippers assigned G Eric Bledsoe to the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam in his comeback from a torn meniscus in his right knee. The second-year point guard was hurt during an off-season workout. … Fans near courtside included Rihanna, Billy Crystal, “True Blood” actor Jim Parrack and David Justice.