MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The stunned and battered Memphis Grizzlies had legitimate hopes of going farther in the NBA playoffs than a year ago when they fell to Oklahoma City in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals is a distant memory.
Now with their egos bruised, they’re just focused on avoiding elimination in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers.
Memphis hosts the Clippers on Wednesday night in Game 5 still trying to figure out how to stop Chris Paul and hoping to force Game 6. It’s been every bit the rugged series expected with two games decided by one point and Monday night’s 101-97 win by Los Angeles in overtime.
Guard Mike Conley said the Grizzlies have to treat this as the last game.
“It could be the last game for us,” Conley said. “We’ve got to give everything we got regardless if guys are happy, if guys are not. You have got to play for one another and understand that winning is all that matters at this point. It doesn’t matter how we do it. It doesn’t matter who steps up or who doesn’t. We have to win.”
The Clippers are on the verge of something special and very rare for the franchise. The Clippers beat Denver in the first round in 2006, and one more win clinches only their second playoff series since the Buffalo Braves relocated to California. Paul has plenty of playoff experience while with New Orleans and knows well what his current teammates face now.
“The close-out game is the toughest one, especially in their place,” Paul said.
“I’m sure they’re excited to be going back home, and we’ve showed the ability to win there. So we need to come out ready to play because it’s going to be a difficult game there too obviously with the crowd behind them. We got down early (Monday night), and our crowd’s energy got us back into it. It’s not going to be that way on the road.”
The Grizzlies had less than 1,000 tickets available Tuesday night with the mantra “Believe Memphis” applies not just to the team but the entire town.
Still, with Paul and Griffin leading the way, the Clippers are a confident group.
“We have to take it one game at a time and understand that if we go down there and we play our game and play together, we’re going to have a great chance to close them out,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said.
Both teams took Tuesday off, flying from Los Angeles to Memphis.
This series has been a battle royale so far with the Clippers picking up seven technical fouls and the Grizzlies six. Blake Griffin estimates he’s racked up 5 1/2 fouls per game and said he knows he must do better. Grizzlies guard Tony Allen says the Clippers deserve credit for “pretty much manhandling” the series going up 3-1.
Paul has been a key, scoring eight of his 27 points in overtime Monday night. Paul also got to the line where he hit all six of his free throws.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said Tuesday he used the wrong word after Monday night’s loss in saying that Paul flops when the All-Star guard is simply too good at creating fouls. The Memphis coach wants his Grizzlies to be smarter, stay poised and avoid confrontations that result in technical fouls.
“We don’t need to be macho in those situations,” Hollins said. “We need to go out and play and be macho and get the ball off the glass and get the ball in the post and get the ball up the court and defend.”
The Grizzlies were 3-1 a year ago in their opening series, lost Game 5 and returned to Memphis where they closed out the series and advanced.
But Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol dominated last postseason, taking control of the paint. In this series, the Clippers have been so physical that Gasol has had few, if any, points, late in games while Randolph often finds himself taking shots from outside late. Gasol averaged a double-double last postseason, but the All-Star center has had only one this series.
“Even when we’ve gotten the ball inside, there’s not a lot of space to operate,” Hollins said. “They just decide that they’re going to come and try to take the ball out of their hands and make us beat them from the outside. And we haven’t been able to do that consistently.”
Only eight NBA teams have rallied to win a series trailing 3-1 with Phoenix over the Lakers in 2006 the last. Hollins was with Philadelphia when Boston rallied over the 76ers in the 1981 Eastern Conference finals. Hollins dismissed any talk of history.
“We have to win one game, that’s the game here at home before us and that’s basically all we can worry about,” Hollins said.