MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies held on for a big win to tighten the Western Conference race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Marc Gasol scored 18 points, Rudy Gay had 16 and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers 94-85 Monday night, moving one-half game behind Los Angeles for the fourth seed in the West
“It’s the wild, wild West,” said Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo, who had 13 points. “You look in the (Eastern Conference). When you get down to the last five or six games, a lot of teams pretty much start resting. In the West, that’s not possible. Every game counts down the stretch. You can lose two or three, and have a tough opponent in the first round.
“Everyone is really close, and we moved that much closer to the fourth spot. We’ve just got to keep playing well.”
The game had the atmosphere of a playoff matchup. The Memphis crowd was intense, the play on the floor was physical and emotions were high with a lot of players barking about calls.
The aggressive play was part of the Grizzlies’ strategy.
“We didn’t want them to run free and get a bunch of lobs,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “Just be physical and aggressive with them, and I thought we accomplished that.
“We held them to 85 points, and they can score.”
Mike Conley also scored 13 points for Memphis, which won for the eighth time in 10 games. Marreese Speights had 12 points and Zach Randolph added 10 points and 12 rebounds as the Grizzlies finished with a 48-36 rebounding edge, but committed 20 turnovers.
“That was probably the only negative I saw — the 20 turnovers, and that we gave up 29 points (off turnovers),” Hollins said. “But the rest of the game was really outstanding.”
Chris Paul led Los Angeles with 21 points and six assists, while Blake Griffin had 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. DeAndre Jordan added 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye scored 11 points each.
The Clippers snapped a two-game winning streak and lost for just the second time in 10 games.
“I couldn’t make a shot,” said Paul who was 7 for 17 from the floor, and missed three of his four attempts from outside the arc. “I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean. We had a lot of easy ones that we just couldn’t convert.”
The Clippers pulled to 86-83 with 55.8 seconds left on Jordan’s dunk. But Memphis hit all six of its free throws, including four by Conley, in the final 31 seconds to preserve the victory.
The Grizzlies led 52-41 at halftime despite committing seven turnovers, a prelude to a night of miscues. Memphis overcame the ballhandling problems by shooting 55 percent and controlling the boards, 23-18 before the break.
“They are one of the best rebounding teams in the league,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I thought we did a good job handling some of the pressure, but we did not rebound the ball well, especially in the first half. They were more physical, and we struggled to shoot the ball.”
Memphis finished shooting 50 percent, while the Clippers were limited to 41 percent.
Gasol led the Grizzlies with 12 points in the first half. No Clippers player had reached double figures, but Paul and Foye had nine apiece and Griffin had eight. Griffin also spent some time on the bench with two fouls.
The Clippers, who committed five turnovers in the half, including two in the final minute, shot 37 percent before the break.
Memphis extended the lead to 15 early in the second half, and maintained a double-digit margin through much of the third quarter. The Grizzlies led 71-60 heading to the fourth.
Bledsoe’s layup got the Clippers’ deficit under double digits to start the final period, but Mayo scored a pair of baskets, extending the lead to 81-64 with 7 minutes left.
Griffin and Paul were on the bench at the time. When they returned during the middle portion of the fourth, consecutive baskets by Paul pulled Los Angeles to 84-74 with 3:14 left.
Paul’s 3-point play with 1:22 left got the Clippers to 86-81, the closest they had been since the latter stages of the first half. A dunk by Jordan with 55.8 seconds left got them even closer at 86-83.
But Gay got a feed from Mayo on the baseline with the Clippers overplaying defensively and his dunk put the Grizzlies up five. Gay followed with two free throws after Paul’s turnover, and Conley converted the final four free throws.
“We got stops,” Griffin said of the comeback. “We got in the open court and got some easy buckets. Once that happens, some shots start to fall. We fought back, but obviously didn’t finish it out, and that was the problem.”
No one had to point out how close the two teams are or could ignore the possibility of a first-round 4 vs. 5 matchup.
“We are right there,” Griffin said. “We are going back and forth. We very likely could (face each other), and we are excited about that.”
“We wanted to get this win for ourselves,” Conley said. “We want to move up and get the fourth spot and go even further if we can.”