x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

LA Clippers try to grin and bear Memphis Grizzlies' rough style

The Clippers return to LA with the series 1-1 and smarting from the grind-it-out play exhibited by the Grizzlies in Memphis.

Chris Paul, centre, in red, and his Los Angeles Clippers teammates have found the going rough against the tough-minded Memphis Grizzlies.
Chris Paul, centre, in red, and his Los Angeles Clippers teammates have found the going rough against the tough-minded Memphis Grizzlies.

 

Just two games into their first play-offs run together, the Los Angeles Clippers are already hurting and hobbling.

That is what happens to opponents of the bruising Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers, however, hope a return home will help get everyone healthy.

With a third of their roster nursing injuries, the Clippers took the day off Thursday after a highly eventful two-game opening set in Memphis. Los Angeles left with a split and seized home-court advantage in the series despite following up one of the biggest comebacks in play-offs history with a 105-98 loss Wednesday night.

Their game at Staples Center tonight (12.30am Sunday UAE time) is their first home play-offs game in six years. The Clippers will be looking for the post-season toughness shown by the Grizzlies, who rebounded from their stunning series-opening collapse with a gritty, grinding equalizer.

"We played better, but it's no moral victories around here," said Chris Paul, who had 29 points, six assists and five turnovers in Game 2. "At the end of the day, it's 1-1. We did what we were supposed to do, yeah, win one game. But I feel like we could have got two. Now we've got to take care of two."

The Grizzlies boarded a plane with similar resolve.

"We do have to win on the road, just like the Clippers had to win," said Lionel Hollins, the Memphis coach. "It's an evenly contested play-off series. Nobody is safe wherever."

Although Paul has ample play-offs experience, the young core of the Clippers is learning about the post-season grind together, and nobody grinds on an opponent more than the Grizzlies.

After Los Angeles lost Caron Butler in Game 1 with a broken left hand, Mo Williams bruised his right forearm, Eric Bledsoe bruised his left elbow and Nick Young sprained his right thumb in Game 2.

But as long as Paul and Blake Griffin are at full strength, the Clippers believe they have a chance against the more experienced Grizzlies, who embrace Hollins's hard-nosed style.

Griffin had 22 points and nine rebounds in Game 2 but has yet to produce a dominant performance in his first post-season trip.

Memphis's experienced big men are limiting his spectacular scoring plays.

"They played the way they always play," Griffin said. "They play tough.

"We have to do a better job of keeping them out of the paint. At least, make it harder on them. It's always good to get one on the road, but obviously we would have loved to go back 2-0. We're going back home for two home games in a row, and we're happy about that."

The Clippers took plenty of positives from Game 2. They made nearly 57 per cent of their shots and stayed close throughout, but they were doomed by 21 turnovers.

Memphis led the NBA in steals and "forced turnovers" for the second consecutive season, throttling opponents with their physical style and quick hands.

The Grizzlies' superior aggression in Game 2 was reflected at the free-throw line, where Memphis outscored the Clippers 31-13. They shot 21 more free throws than did Los Angeles.

"We don't go out wanting people to get injured or anything, [but] if that's the case, then guys are getting banged up," said Mike Conley ,the Memphis guard.

"I think being aggressive is our style, and it does play to our advantage, but we've just got to stick to playing that way consistently."

The fourth-seeded Grizzlies are well aware of the revival by the Clippers and the surge of interest in what had always been "the other" LA team to the Lakers.

Their appearance in the play-offs is only their second since 1997, and their hungry fans snapped up every ticket to watch one of the league's most entertaining sides.

The Clippers defeated the Grizzlies in both regular-season games they played in Los Angeles.

"They have very good fan support, and they haven't been in the playoffs in a while, and they're excited about it," Conley said. "We expect it to be loud in there, and it'll be a hectic environment."

Elsewhere, both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder moved within a game of a four-game sweep.

The Heat pulled away from the New York Knicks in the fourth quarter as LeBron James scored 32 points to lead Miami to an 87-70 win at Madison Square Garden.

It was the 13th consecutive loss by the Knicks in the play-offs, a record.

After two narrow victories at home, the Thunder left no doubt in Game 3 at Dallas, crushing the Mavericks 95-79. Kevin Durant scored 31 points as Oklahoma City pushed the defending NBA champions to the brink of elimination.

"We played two solid games in OKC," said Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavs. "We picked a bad time to put a stinker out there."

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