Can Grizzlies shake off epic meltdown?

By The Associated Press

MEMPHIS — The Memphis Grizzlies have a hangover so bad sleep was almost impossible, and they can only hope two days can help them shake the sick feeling of blowing a 27-point lead right along with home-court advantage to open the playoffs.

Zach Randolph couldn’t sleep, so he watched himself miss an easy layup late in Sunday night’s 99-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on tape. He thinks he had the worst playoff game of his career with six points and the memory of a badly missed short jumper where the ball sailed over the basket, never coming close.

“It’s still tough for me right now,” Randolph said Monday, dripping sweat after putting up shot after shot in practice.

Guard Mike Conley tossed and turned too, maybe getting a couple hours’ sleep before heading back to the gym. He finally felt ready for a nice nap after practice, and he said the Grizzlies had plenty of positives in a game where they played ideal basketball for three quarters.

“You can’t ask for more than that. You just want to try to do it in the fourth quarter, too,” Conley said.

The Clippers stunned the Grizzlies and an entire city by tying the NBA playoff record for the largest deficit overcome at the end of three quarters, when they trailed by 21. Even though Los Angeles lost forward Caron Butler to a broken left hand, the veteran, with his hand wrapped, said the Clippers savored silencing a town with the dramatic and historic comeback.

“It’s deflating the whole city,” Butler said. “It was a concert when I came over and when I left, it ended early. I didn’t hear no music. I didn’t hear anything. Beale Street was kind of quiet, so it was something that affected everyone. The city’s pretty stunned by that.”

Coach Lionel Hollins is preaching calm to his Grizzlies — and the city. He notes it’s only one loss, and Memphis can even the series Wednesday in Game 2.

“We just got conservative and quit attacking,” Hollins said. “They got more aggressive defensively, and we took some bad shots and we made some turnovers.”

That the Grizzlies did.

Memphis missed 12 straight shots, and the Clippers finished the game with a 28-3 run after O.J. Mayo’s 3 with 9:13 left gave Memphis a 24-point advantage. Los Angeles wound up handing the Grizzlies their first loss at home since March 16 against Toronto, snapping an 11-game winning streak that had tied Memphis’ franchise high. It also was the Grizzlies’ first loss in regulation at home since Feb. 12 against Utah.

With the Grizzlies trying to pinpoint how they lost, the Clippers found themselves re-watching the final eight minutes to see exactly how they won. The Clippers know their comeback was historic. Blake Griffin said he watched that stretch while eating breakfast Monday with the rally still feeling unreal.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a game like that, like I said. But it’s just one game,” Griffin said. “We’ve still got to win three more. So we can’t sit and dwell on it too much. But we do need to take that momentum and kind of take that energy and ride it into the next game.”

Their challenge now is playing defense the whole game and adjusting without Butler, who is hoping his teammates keep playing long enough that maybe he can make a decision to rejoin them this postseason.

Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said he has to figure out who starts in Butler’s place to deal with Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay at 6-foot-8.

His options include Ryan Gomes and Bobby Simmons, and neither played in Game 1, and Nick Young could get a chance as well. Young was key in the comeback with 19 points off the bench.

Memphis can console itself with this tidbit: The last three teams that blew leads of 18 points or more in the shot clock era, according to Elias Sports Bureau, all found themselves playing in the NBA Finals. The New Jersey Nets lost to Boston in 2002, though the Mavericks won last year along with Houston in 1994.

The Grizzlies eliminated San Antonio a year ago after the Spurs needed a big 3 to get to overtime and pull out a win, and they took Oklahoma City to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in the next series last spring after a triple-overtime loss on their own court.

“This group is very mentally tough,” Conley said.

“We’ve had to handle adversity all year long with injuries and guys being in and out of the lineup. This is just another test for us, another obstacle we have to overcome.

“I think we’ll do it, and hopefully we’ll come back with the right effort and right mind-set for Wednesday’s game.”