LOS ANGELES (AP) The stubborn Memphis Grizzlies aren’t the only obstacles in the Los Angeles Clippers’ path to closing out a rare playoff series victory. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are banged-up heading into Game 6, and Caron Butler continues to play with a broken left hand.
The Clippers said Thursday that Griffin and Paul would be game-time decisions on Friday night, although the All-Star duo figures to play with so much on the line.
The Clippers could have earned some much-needed rest with a win in Game 5 Wednesday night. Instead, they lost 92-80, forcing the series back home to Staples Center with a second chance to clinch just the third playoff series win in franchise history on Friday.
“It gives us a lot of confidence going back home,” center DeAndre Jordan said. “We won our last two at home, so we’ll just try to go home and feed off our home crowd.”
Griffin had an MRI on his sprained left knee Thursday, when the Clippers didn’t practice. The team said it confirmed there was no structural damage. He got hurt in the third quarter, but returned to play. Paul strained his right hip flexor in the fourth quarter, but returned, too. He also has a jammed middle finger, but he says he plans to play Friday.
That’s good news for the Clippers, since Paul has been the catalyst in leading them to three narrow victories against the Grizzlies. Butler got hurt in Game 1 and was believed to be done for the rest of the playoffs, but has continued to be a presence.
“They’ve made more plays than us,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said Thursday before boarding a flight to Los Angeles. “I mean the little kid Chris Paul has done a great job of finishing games and that’s really been the difference in all those games that we have lost. We did a good job getting ahead of them last night and the one other win we had here, and we’ve got to do that when we go out to L.A.”
The Clippers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2. They last won a playoff series in 2006, and before that they have to go all the way back to 1976, when the franchise was called the Buffalo Braves, for their only other series victory.
Closing out the Grizzlies would be a defining moment for a Clippers franchise that is still working to overcome its reputation as the laughingstock of the NBA. Griffin and Paul’s performances this season have gone a long way toward making everyone forget the team’s bad old days, but actually moving on to the next round would be the validation the Clippers have long sought.
“We know how big of a game it is,” second-year coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It’s great to be in this situation, and we have to handle it the right way, hopefully.”
The Clippers didn’t handle their emotions Wednesday night, drawing five technical fouls to one for the Grizzlies.
“We’ve got to do a better job of keeping our composure a little bit,” Del Negro said, “but we’re just trying to scramble and battle and try to get ourselves some type of rhythm to get back into the game.”
Memphis lost both regular-season games at Staples, along with Games 3 and 4 there. The Grizzlies will be bucking NBA history again on Friday. Only eight teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to claim a series. If they win, Game 7 would be Sunday in Memphis.
“If we can win a quarter at a time, I think the odds are in our favor,” Tony Allen said.
Top-seeded San Antonio awaits the winner in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Grizzlies dominated the paint and the boards in winning Wednesday. They’ll look to work their inside-out game featuring Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph again Friday. Those two led Memphis in scoring and banging in the paint in Game 5.
But the Grizzlies faltered in the second half, when they scored just 35 points after totaling 57 in the first half. The Clippers rallied to twice get within six points.
“Everybody’s got to execute better,” Hollins said. “We were out of position three or four times, we’re trying to run plays and one or two guys are thinking it’s a different play. We have to be on the same page and have poise and confidence.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report.