Hurting Clippers return from crazy Memphis split
By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES (AP) Just two games into their first playoff run together, the Los Angeles Clippers are already hurting and hobbling.
That's what happens to opponents of the bruising Memphis Grizzlies, but the Clippers are hoping a return home will get everybody healthy in a hurry.
With a third of their roster nursing injuries, the Clippers took the day off Thursday after a highly eventful two-game opening set in Memphis. Los Angeles left with a split and seized home-court advantage in the series despite following up one of the biggest comebacks in playoff history with a 105-98 loss Wednesday night.
While they prepare for their first playoff game in six years in front of their long-suffering Staples Center fans in Game 3 on Saturday, the Clippers must figure out where to find the postseason will already possessed by the Grizzlies, who rebounded from their stunning series-opening collapse with a gritty, grinding equalizer.
"We played better, but it's no moral victories around here," said Chris Paul, who had 29 points, six assists and five turnovers in Game 2. "At the end of the day, it's 1-1. We did what we were supposed to do, yeah, win one game. But I feel like we could have got two. Now we've got to take care of two."
The Grizzlies boarded a plane with similar resolve Thursday.
"We do have to win on the road, just like the Clippers had to win," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "It's an evenly contested playoff series. Nobody is safe wherever."
Although Paul has ample postseason experience, the Clippers' young core is learning about the playoff grind together - and nobody grinds on an opponent more than the Grizzlies. After Los Angeles lost forward Caron Butler in Game 1 with a freak broken left hand, Mo Williams bruised his right forearm, Eric Bledsoe bruised his left elbow and Nick Young sprained his right thumb in Game 2.
But as long as Paul and Blake Griffin are at full strength, the Clippers think they'll have a chance against the more playoff-tested Grizz, who embrace Hollins' hard-nosed style. Griffin had 22 points and nine rebounds in Game 2, but still hasn't produced a dominant performance in his first postseason trip, with Memphis' experienced frontcourt doing an impressive job limiting the human highlight factory's eye-popping plays.
"They played the way they always play," Griffin said. "They play tough. We have to do a better job of keeping them out of the paint. At least make it harder on them. It's always good to get one on the road, but obviously we would have loved to go back 2-0. We're going back home for two home games in a row, and we're happy about that."
The Clippers had plenty of positives from Game 2. They made nearly 57 percent of their shots, becoming the first playoff team in five years to lose with such a high percentage, but were done in by 21 turnovers.
Memphis led the NBA in steals and forced turnovers for the second straight season, mercilessly defending opponents with physical play and ball-hawking skills. The Grizzlies' superior aggression in Game 2 also was reflected at the free-throw line, where Memphis scored 31 points to the Clippers' 13, shooting 21 more free throws than Los Angeles.
"We don't go out wanting people to get injured or anything, (but) if that's the case, then guys are getting banged up," Memphis guard Mike Conley said. "I think being aggressive is our style, and it does play to our advantage, but we've just got to stick to playing that way consistently."
The fourth-seeded Grizzlies know all about the Clippers' revival and the resulting surge of interest in the team in Los Angeles, where the franchise is a perennial second banana to the Lakers. The Clippers have made the playoffs just once since 1997, and their hungry fans regularly sold out Staples Center this season to watch one of the NBA's most exciting teams.
Memphis lost both of its regular-season visits to the Clippers.
"They have very good fan support, and they haven't been in the playoffs in a while, and they're excited about it," Conley said. "We expect it to be loud in there, and it'll be a hectic environment."
But after last season's breakthrough playoffs, the Grizzlies already are showing the maturity they gained from last spring's run. Memphis could have panicked after their atrocious finish to the opener, but instead played a complete game and held off any late rallies by the Clippers.
"No matter what people think, this team likes to play with our backs against the wall, and we like the fact that people are rooting against us," said Rudy Gay, who will be appearing in his first playoff road game after sitting out last year's run with injury. "We've always been an underdog team, and for them to have more fan support makes us want to succeed even more."
Updated May 3, 2012