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Clippers get dominated in third quarter during lopsided loss to Memphis

Clippers forward Robert Covington has his shot challenged by Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke.
Clippers forward Robert Covington has his shot challenged by Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke during the first half Tuesday night in Memphis, Tenn. The Clippers lost 135-109.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)
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It wasn’t so much a third quarter as it was a bludgeoning, a statement of intent that the Memphis Grizzlies — brash and unapologetic for it all season — have made abundantly clear on their way to the NBA’s third-best record.

Trailing by 12 points two minutes into the third quarter Tuesday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., the Clippers were gamely hanging around despite numerous ways they had tried to allow a Grizzlies blowout in the first half. Just eight minutes later, the Clippers trailed by 30, Memphis making its move like its All-Star guard, Ja Morant — fast and ruthless.

The Clippers already had lost three times to Memphis this season, with each following a similar blueprint: The Grizzlies have been tougher, more physical, more difficult to defend close to the basket. But even judged against that history, Tuesday’s season sweep-ensuring loss was this matchup at its most lopsided after being blown open during a third quarter that Memphis won by 14 points.

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“Just wasn’t physical enough from start to finish at all five positions,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.

The 135-109 loss, the Clippers’ largest margin of defeat this season and the second time in as many games they have allowed 135 points or more, was a bitter way to enter the final hours leading into Thursday’s noon PST trade deadline.

Clippers guard Luke Kennard on Tuesday was selected to compete in the NBA’s All-Star three-point shooting competition Feb. 19 in Cleveland.

Feb. 8, 2022

The Clippers team that takes the floor Thursday night in Dallas is expected to look different from the one that trudged out of Memphis after trailing by 34 points, with the team’s front office keeping an eye on building a title contender in 2023. On a night when Lue badly needed muscle inside, after Memphis grabbed 14 offensive rebounds in the first half and 21 overall, and played reserves exclusively during the fourth quarter, backup center Serge Ibaka was the lone Clipper not to play.

Lue still used a three-center rotation, but after starter Ivica Zubac and backup Isaiah Hartenstein finished their first-half shifts, the coach turned to a small-ball lineup. Ibaka, whose $9.7-million contract expires after this season, has been widely expected to be moved ahead of the deadline, and his conspicuously bench-bound night was a blinking red light to at least one opposing executive.

But the addition of one extra player in the rotation likely wouldn’t have changed much. The Grizzlies made a Clippers team that has rarely lost its nerve during the last month look rushed and befuddled. Marcus Morris Sr., himself a fixture of same trade rumors, mustered only three points and wasn’t even under duress when he threw a pass into his own backcourt in the third quarter leading to an over-and-back violation that stopped a possession.

Guard Reggie Jackson committed six turnovers, his most since Dec.6, but he brushed aside a question about being the only player on the roster — currently, at least — who has operated as a primary ballhandler.

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Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant handles the ball against Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant handles the ball against Clippers center Isaiah Hartenstein in the second half Tuesday in Memphis.
(Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

“I’ve got to be better,” said Jackson, who had 12 points.

Hartenstein scored a season-high 19 points for the Clippers. Norman Powell scored his team’s first eight points on a mix of rim pressure and three-point shooting and 16 overall but took only two shots in the third quarter. Powell credited the similarity of the offense and defense he knew in Portland with allowing a fast start with the Clippers, then he credited Memphis’ “top-lock” defense with cooling him down.

“I thought we missed a lot of advance passes to get [Powell] up the floor and for him to attack early — even in the first half,” Lue said. “When we got stops, we didn’t get the ball up ahead, to try to take advantage of that.”

Powell has scored 44 points in his first 47 minutes as a Clipper, and he also erased two shots by De’Anthony Melton at the rim. It was the most resistance the Grizzlies felt inside the paint on their way to scoring 78 points there.

“Twenty-one offensive rebounds is pretty wild,” Powell said. “Twenty-four points off second-chance points. You got 21 points off turnovers. That’s the game.”

Morant scored 30 points, and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 26 points and 11 rebounds.

When Memphis (38-18) wasn’t grabbing the rebounds of its own misses, the Clippers (27-29) were too often undercutting themselves, often getting a defensive stop only to fumble the ball back to the Grizzlies. When Zubac stole a third-quarter pass, his outlet pass was deflected to Memphis’ Desmond Bane, who found an open Ziaire Williams for a three-pointer.

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The New Orleans Pelicans have acquired guard C.J. McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a seven-player trade ahead of Thursday deadline.

Feb. 8, 2022

Lue played more than two dozen clips of transition defense during the team’s shootaround Tuesday morning, but Memphis scored 22 points in transition anyway. The Clippers allowed 28 fast-break points to Milwaukee one game earlier. Before that, they hadn’t allowed 20-plus points in transition in two games in a row since Nov. 29 and Dec. 1.

Eight minutes into the third quarter, Morris was ejected after fouling Morant’s fast-break layup attempt. Morant fell onto his back hard. But it was telling that even after the foul, it was the Clippers who looked by far the worse for wear.

“I’m not worried about it. I’m actually cool with Morris,” Morant said. “You see I got up. I played on concrete all my life.”

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