Perhaps the NBA knew exactly what it was doing by having the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies open the regular season against each other Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers and Grizzlies played a tough seven-game first-round playoff series that L.A. won in Memphis in Game 7. The teams don’t really seem to like each other and they seem to be evenly matched in talent.
Just like the playoffs, the game was physical and both teams were unrelenting during the Clippers’ 101-92 victory.
It took the toughness of Chris Paul and the scoring of reserve guard Jamal Crawford.
Paul finished with a double-double with 12 points and 12 assists. He scored six consecutive points for the Clippers in the fourth quarter and assisted on the next seven in a row, helping the Clippers open a 100-91 lead.
“I told the guys before we ran out, when the schedule was released during the summer, I’m sure everybody with their team and everybody with our team was like, ‘Oh, I’m sure this wasn’t a coincidence,’” said Paul, who had seven points and three assists in the decisive fourth quarter.
“I’m sure this was on purpose. But that’s a good team we just beat over there and we knew that it was going to be hard fought and it was going to be chippy.”
Crawford finished with 29 points in 30 minutes, including a big-time three-pointer in front of Memphis’ bench off an assist from Paul and a layup off another Paul assist.
He made 10 of 14 shots from the field, five of seven in the fourth quarter.
“My job pretty much is to score,” Crawford said, “to try and make plays for those guys.”
Besides Crawford giving the Clippers a lift off the bench, the reserves were as good as advertised.
Eric Bledsoe had 13 points. Lamar Odom, who had been out two weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee, had three blocked shots, six rebounds and two points in 17 minutes.
Ryan Hollins had three rebounds and one blocked shot. Ronny Turiaf had one blocked shot and three points.
“I thought our bench was really the difference in the game,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought Jamal Crawford…You can tell one of the main reasons we brought him here is because he’s a explosive player. He hit some big shots for us.”
The game figured to get physical because the Grizzlies are a physical team and that was how they played against the Clippers in that playoff series.
Blake Griffin (11 points, seven rebounds) and Zach Randolph (15 points, 16 rebounds) got entangled late in the fourth, exchanged words and were both hit with technical fouls.
About 20 seconds later, the two became entangled again, both Griffin and Randolph falling to the court. This time, the referees let them play on.
Memphis’ Marc Gasol bulled his way to 20 points and seven rebounds and Rudy Gay had 25 points.
“After the series that we had with them last year, you would expect that a little bit,” Del Negro said. “It’s going to be a physical thing. But I think we enjoy that. I think it’s good for some of our guys.”