New York: The Los Angeles Clippers picked up where they left off in their budding rivalry with the Memphis Grizzlies, claiming a 101-92 home triumph in the season-opener for both teams on Wednesday.
Facing a Grizzlies side they edged out over seven games in the Western Conference first-round play-offs last season, the Clippers prevailed in a scrappy and sometimes ill-tempered contest courtesy of a strong fourth quarter.
“We knew it was going to be hard fought and chippy,” Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul told reporters. “When the schedule was released over the summer, I’m sure players on both teams were like ‘I’m sure this isn’t a coincidence’.”
It was no coincidence that Paul livened up his quiet night by emerging with six straight points late in the game to turn a one-point Clippers lead into a 93-88 advantage.
Off-season acquisition Jamal Crawford then brought the victory home in the last three minutes with a laser-like three-pointer and a driving layup that put the Clippers 98-90 ahead.
Crawford wasted little time endearing himself with the home fans on his Clippers debut by recording a game-high 29 points, including 12 in the pivotal fourth.
“It’s a good start definitely but winning is a better start,” Crawford said. “When I’m scoring like that it’s never just about me it’s my team mates putting me in good positions.”
Rudy Gay led Memphis with 25 points and Marc Gasol added 20 in a game that witnessed more bad blood between the teams.
Physical big men Blake Griffin of Los Angeles and the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph locked horns throughout the playoff series and the pair again engaged in a series of bruising encounters before each drew technical fouls in the fourth.
“It’s just one of those things after 48 minutes of pushing and shoving down low, it just gets to you after a while,” Randolph said after finishing with 15 points and 16 rebounds.
With both franchises looking to make the jump to elite status, the West contenders seem to be standing in each other’s way.
Los Angeles was defeated in their second-round playoff series last season while the Grizzlies suffered the same fate the year before.
In Wednesday’s match-up, the Clippers found their edge by outscoring the visitors 28-15 in the final 12 minutes.
Paul finished with 12 points and 12 assists while Griffin’s power dunks were the only thing notable about his 11.
Los Angeles, though, was sparked by an active bench that recorded 49 points on the night.
The Clippers were up 46-34 in the second only to watch the advantage disappear via a 12-0 Memphis spurt.
The Grizzlies then used a 17-3 run late in the third to take control but that too faded when Los Angeles opened the fourth with 10 straight points to again foil their familiar adversary.