By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies are very happy after finally getting a bit of payback for their first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers a year ago.
They also made a bit of NBA history.
Memphis became only the 10th team in NBA history to win four straight after trailing 0-2 — and the first to win the next four all by double digits. The Grizzlies won four straight postseason games for the first time in their short playoff history, ousting the Los Angeles Clippers in six games with a 118-105 victory on Friday night.
Zach Randolph, who had 23 points before being ejected with 1:57 left, said the Grizzlies had a lot of emotion in their locker room rallying from 0-2 when people thought they were down. Winning this series also makes up a bit for losing to the Clippers in Game 7 in this arena a year ago.
“Last year I thought we should have won the series, but we didn’t,” Randolph said. “It means more this time.”
Memphis’ win sets up a rematch in the Western Conference semifinals against Oklahoma City, the team that beat the Grizzlies in seven games in 2011, the only other time they won a playoff series. The Grizzlies will play Game 1 against the Thunder on Sunday in Oklahoma City.
“Sky is the limit for us,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said. “To back up what he (Randolph) said, one game at a time has been our motto. We are a blue-collar team. We are going to grind it out game in and game out. We are just looking forward to Sunday, taking it one game at a time.”
The Grizzlies and Clippers posted matching franchise records going 56-32 in the regular season. The Clippers had the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage after winning the season series 3-1 against Memphis, and they even won their ninth straight game going up 2-0 in Los Angeles. Then they wound up losing four straight for only the third time this season.
Now the Clippers have to decide whether to bring back coach Vinny Del Negro, who wants to return, and try to convince Chris Paul not to leave when he hits free agency in July. Paul said he has plenty of time to figure out his next move.
“Our season is over,” Paul said. “There’s nothing to take away from it. It is what it is. We lost.”
Mike Conley also scored 23 points thanks to going 12 of 17 at the free throw line for Memphis. The Grizzlies finished with seven players in double figures. Tony Allen had a postseason-best 19 points and Jerryd Bayless had 16.
Reserve Matt Barnes scored a career playoff-best 30 points for Los Angeles. Paul had 28 points before being ejected with 2:29 left for crashing into Marc Gasol off a missed free throw, though he shook hands with several Grizzlies before going to the locker room.
Del Negro said he didn’t understand how Paul could be thrown out of the game. Paul had never been ejected from the playoffs before, and he thanked an unnamed friend for reminding him to watch what he said to reporters.
“I got kids to feed,” Paul said.
Blake Griffin didn’t start because of his sprained right ankle, and he scored nine points in 13:56. Del Negro said Griffin’s ankle was as big as a grapefruit limiting him to a few minutes at a stretch.
“This is not how we wanted it to end,” Griffin said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was on hand, as was Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. Conley had old Ohio State teammate Greg Oden in the arena as well. Having the commissioner on hand didn’t slow anyone down in a game featuring lots of headlocks and knockdowns along with seven technical fouls combined. Even Grant Hill had three fouls in 3 minutes in the first half, and Chauncey Billups got a flagrant-1.
“They came out threw and everything at us,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “They played small. They played smaller. They pressed. They zoned. They gave hard fouls. They really competed. We held our poise. Held up mentally tough-wise and were able to get the win.”
Billups credited the Grizzlies for never letting them get into a rhythm or their Lob City run-and-gun approach.
“Because of that, we lose the series,” Billups said.
Los Angeles led only once, 45-44 on Barnes’ fourth 3-pointer with 5:08 left in the second quarter. The teams had four more ties before Quincy Pondexter hit a 3 with 2:02 left putting the Grizzlies ahead to stay at 54-51.
The Clippers had one last run, a 10-1 spurt capped by Caron Butler’s 20-foot jumper with 5:16 left pulling them within 103-97. Conley hit a 3 followed by a 3 from Bayless, and Randolph scored inside with 3:06 remaining to push the lead back to 111-99.
Billups had as many fouls as points (four). He got that flagrant-1 in the third when he put his body into Conley trying to stop a fast-break layup attempt and putting his right arm around Conley’s neck as they went to the floor. Conley hit the free throws, then hit a 3-pointer from the left corner giving the Grizzlies a 74-61 lead with 7:11 left.
After the bucket, Randolph and Griffin wrestled each other to the court in a tangle of bodies. That earned the duo their fourth double-foul in this series with Randolph getting a technical.
Paul picked up his technical for expressing his disgust when Randolph scored and picked up the foul. Griffin said the tape will speak for what happened on that play, but he felt a hand on his neck. Randolph said Griffin was pulling him down so he tried to brace for the fall.
NOTES: Hollins played for one of the nine teams that rallied from a 0-2 deficit. He was with Portland in 1977 when the Trail Blazers rallied to beat Philadelphia for the NBA championship. … The Clippers did manage to snap a streak by the Grizzlies. Memphis had held opponents to 25 points or fewer in the third quarter in 52 straight games since Jan. 14, a streak 25 games longer than any other in the shot clock era. The Clippers scored 26 in the third. … Memphis went 23-1 in the regular season when scoring at least 100 points and is 3-0 in the postseason. … Memphis also had its 13th straight sellout in the postseason.