Grizzlies still have Clippers' number

Grizzlies still have Clippers' number
Clippers veteran point guard Chris Paul reacts after having the ball stolen from him in the final seconds of a close loss against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

It was game No. 57 in a Clippers season that, as it does for all NBA teams, feels like an eternity. But Monday night was different. The Memphis Grizzlies were in town.

There is history with these teams. If they were making a movie, they might call it "Die Hard IV." This time it was personal.


And it will remain so, with two more games against the Grizzlies this season, and the ever-haunting possibility that they will match up again in the playoffs.

Some of the pregame questions were about this being a playoff preview. With seconds left and the Clippers trailing, 88-87, that's exactly what it became.

For the Clippers, it was perfect, and then it wasn't. Chris Paul, having a monster game with 30 points and 10 assists, was going one on one for the last shot against point guard Mike Conley. The fans, all on their feet, were chanting "CP3, CP3, CP3."

"Conley is real good," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said before the game. "There was no talk about him at All-Star time and I couldn't understand that."

Now, he will understand it less.

Conley stole the ball from Paul, who bent over in agony and frustration at half court as he saw one of his best games of the season disintegrate into an emotional loss.

Conley made the two free throws and Memphis retained the emotional, and probably physical, edge it has had on the Clippers for the last few seasons.

The "Die Hard" personal series goes on. The Clippers don't need Bruce Willis. They have memories. And now another one, to go with the playoff memories.

"When you have a seven-game series like these guys had," Rivers said, "there's never any love lost after that."

Rivers wasn't in the coaching chair for any of that. His first Clippers playoff venture ended in elimination last season to the Oklahoma City Thunder. But he said he has "watched those [Grizzlies playoff] games a lot [on film]."

There were the Clippers, under Vinny Del Negro, coming back in the opening series game in 2012 in Memphis, after trailing, 97-71, with 9 minutes 12 seconds to play. They won that game, incredibly, and the Grizzlies never recovered in that series. Also, never forgot.

The next year, the tables turned, the games got even rougher and Memphis prevailed. Paul got tossed out of a game, and you are not likely to see that again in your lifetime. And the vintage photo capturing the mood and intensity seemed to be the shot of Zach Randolph, riding Blake Griffin like a jockey on a horse. Only, there are no 260-pound jockeys.

Then the Clippers lost their first encounter with Memphis this season, 107-91.

"They destroyed us in that one," Rivers said.

The Grizzles came into Staples Center at 40-14, the Clippers at 37-19.

It was game on. And what a game it was.

Paul remembered, right from the start. He had 19 points and four assists in the first half and began the third quarter with a three-point bomb.

Marc Gasol, the Memphis monster and younger brother of Pau, was quickly pointing to the scratches on his arm after a no-call and Paul was rolling around at midcourt in a wrestling match for a loose ball.

Some of these games include lots of pats on the back and smiles, at least in the early going.

Not this one.

Rivers captured the essence of Gasol before the game, when he said, "He's slow-fast. He looks like molasses when he moves, but he's always smarter than the guy guarding him. ... He has all the old-man moves."

With the Clippers relying more on the outside shot because they were lacking much of their muscle with the absence of injured Griffin, Gasol and Randolph were, again, difference makers in the paint.

The Clippers are good and aggressive. The Grizzlies are both, plus nastier.

"Styles make matches," Rivers said before the game, alluding to a boxing axiom. "Like Hearns and Leonard. I know which one we'd be."

He didn't say and didn't need to. Tommy Hearns was a tough brawler. Sugar Ray Leonard a rugged stylist.

Sugar Ray lost this one on points.

The NBA is never a tea party. The Grizzlies would be more likely to eat the cups before they drank the tea.

The Clippers didn't just take a lead after the third quarter. Their 68-66 edge was achieved on DeAndre Jordan's exclamation point slam-dunk rebound of Paul's driving miss. He hung on the rim for several seconds, letting the crowd celebrate and the Grizzlies think about it.

There could not have been a cleared tone-setter. Upcoming was not so much a final 12 minutes, more like the 12th round of a heavyweight fight.

Then a little guy name Conley got in the last jab.