Against the Memphis Grizzlies, you have to take care of the basketball. The Grizzlies lead the league in defensive turnover percentage, and they can turn a game around strictly on the strength of their pressure defense.
The Los Angeles Clippers started fast against the Grizzlies on Thursday night, riding some hot shooting to first quarter runs of 9-0 and 11-0 on their way to a 16-point lead at 29-13. But Memphis did what they do in the second quarter, forcing a slew of turnovers to start the period on an 11-0 run of their own and get right back into the game. The Clippers wound up with 13 first half turnovers, and were clinging to a one point lead at the intermission.
Coach Vinny Del Negro's message at halftime must have been pretty simple: take care of the ball and win the game. In the second half, the Clippers committed just three turnovers and indeed came away with a hard-fought if not particularly pretty 98-91 win.
The Clippers were coming off an intense and emotional loss to the Lakers the night before, and seemed sloppy and unfocused at times in this game. But to their credit, they responded every time Memphis made a move. The Grizzlies never led by more than two, and invariably the Clippers scored immediately to regain the lead any time Memphis did manage to break on top.
The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin (20 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists), Mo Williams and Chris Paul (18 points each). Paul was playing his second game in two nights after missing five games with a strained hamstring. His shot has been off since returning, and he was only 3 for 11 in this one, but he made 10 of his 11 free throws and had a key assist to DeAndre Jordan as well as a crucial basket down the stretch. Williams has become the super sub for the Clippers lately, averaging over 22 points per game off the bench in his last five games. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers get some separation.
The Grizzlies were led by Rudy Gay with 24 points; his halfcourt bank shot at the end of the first quarter seemed to energize his team as they were going to the break. Marc Gasol contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. But as a team the Grizzlies shot less than 36%. They looked like they had tired legs, as well they may have playing their fifth game in seven days.
The teams each wore throwback uniforms to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the ABA. The Clippers wore the powder blue duds of the 1970 L.A. Stars, and frankly they didn't look half bad. The cardigans that were part of the warm ups were especially swank. Memphis wore the gold jerseys and green shorts of the Memphis Tams, which were just gawdawful. Apparently the color scheme was a tribute of sorts to the Oakland A's, since both the Tams and A's were owned by Charlie Finley, but let's just say that those colors looked better on Campy Campaneris.
With the win the Clippers improve to 10-6, 9-2 at home. The Grizzlies, who had won seven straight before losing in Portland on Tuesday, drop to 10-8.