Clippers start slow and fall 140-114 to Memphis in afternoon game

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shouts in frustration after a missed scoring opportunity against the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 4, 2020, at Staples Center.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shouts in frustration after a missed scoring opportunity against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first half Saturday at Staples Center.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Going by scoring margin, Saturday was not the worst loss of this Clippers season.

But other data points begged to differ.

A final, if incomplete, tally: 140 points allowed, two rounds of boos endured and one wakeup call received for a Clippers team that, despite its title aspirations, left its Staples Center locker room in various states of frustration after being routed 140-114 by Memphis on Saturday.

“We’re not a great team, that’s No. 1 right there,” center Montrezl Harrell said. “That’s what we need to realize and wake up.”


They took too long to snap to against the Grizzlies, who led by as many as 28 points and easily rebuffed short-lived Clippers rallies. Its lead down to seven in the second quarter, Memphis rattled off seven unanswered points. When that advantage was trimmed to 16 from 26 midway through the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies (14-22) reasserted control in less than two minutes.

“No defense, no communication, no energy,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 24 points on 24 shots.

Jae Crowder had made 19% of his three-pointers in his last eight games but went off for six three-pointers on 11 shots to finish with 27 points against the Clippers, whose perimeter defense was without Patrick Beverley (sprained right wrist) and Paul George (left hamstring tightness). Coach Doc Rivers said both potentially could play Sunday against New York.

Harrell led the Clippers (25-12) with 28 points. Lou Williams added 24 points but called the defense “unacceptable.”

Highlights from the Clippers’ loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We’ve had so much inconsistency and we just got to find even ground at some point,” he said. “These games are flying by, we are getting to the halfway point. It’s only so much longer we can say we are trying to figure it out. We got to start figuring it out.”

Before the game, Rivers said he disdained 12:30 tipoffs such as Saturday’s — “I hate afternoon games” — because they robbed teams of their usual game-day rhythms. Afterward, however, he said his team has been out of its rhythm for more than a week, and that Saturday’s game wasn’t one to shrug off as just one of 82.

“We’ve been playing like this for the last four, five games,” said Rivers, whose team is 5-5 since mid-December. “Our last solid game to me was against the Lakers. Since then, we haven’t played well.”

“I get all the injuries and no practice and all that, and that hurts us, there is no doubt about that, I said that before the game, that it’s a concern for me. But having said that, that doesn’t change your spirit or play hard. I just thought [Memphis] played so hard, so much better, so much harder and their spirits were better. They came to win the game. We showed up and we thought we were just going to win.”

The Clippers showed up but after scoring the game’s first basket never led again. They trailed by 18 within eight minutes and gave up 40 in the first quarter, the most they’d given up this season.

By the time Los Angeles made its first three-pointer, with 5:45 to play before halftime, the Grizzlies had made 10 from deep, including a handful in transition that Rivers had specifically cautioned against before the game

Memphis rookie point guard Ja Morant punished the Clippers with his pace during the fourth quarter of their previous matchup, a Clippers victory in November, and began his work early Saturday. In the first half he caught an alley-oop lob for a dunk and, later, paused to admire the nearly 10 feet of distance his crossover had put between himself and defender Jerome Robinson before making a wide-open three-pointer. The latter play was on social media within minutes.

“I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time,” said Leonard, who later called his outlook positive.

“I’ve been here before and I’ve been in situations like this and the outcome was great,” he said. “We still have a chance. It’s not over.”

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“We’re a good team right now, but we have to get over a hump to be able to be great.”



When: 12:30 p.m., Sunday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570

Update: Knicks guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton are questionable to play. Smith has missed four games because of a strained oblique. Payton, meanwhile, left the team Friday after the birth of a daughter. New York fired coach David Fizdale after a 4-18 start and has been 6-7 under interim coach Mike Miller, with Friday‘s loss to Phoenix snapping a three-game winning streak.