LOS ANGELES—The Clippers spent the regular season rewriting the franchise record books. Now they are in danger of making a different kind of history in the postseason.
The Clippers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 103-93 Tuesday night at Staples Center and face the daunting task of having to go on the road to win a playoff game to keep their season alive. Not only that, the Clippers are looking at playing with a less-than-100 percent Blake Griffin, who sprained his ankle Monday in practice and couldn’t finish Tuesday’s game.
The loss Tuesday was the third consecutive in the series for L.A., which is trying to avoid becoming only the 16th team in NBA playoff history to lose a series after taking a 2-0 lead.
“We’ve got to be desperate,” said Chris Paul, who scored 35 points Tuesday. “They say the playoffs don’t start 'til somebody loses at home, so I guess ours started.”
A loss would be a serious blow to a franchise that is trying to turn a corner and become a respected team after years as an NBA also-ran. The Clippers seemed to be headed in that direction this season when they set a franchise record for wins, won a division title for the first time, and swept the season series from the Lakers for the first time since moving to L.A.
A first-round playoff exit would almost certainly rekindle whispers of “the same old Clippers” and would put the Clippers in the same first-round loser’s boat as the Lakers. A win Friday and another one Sunday to take the series would help the franchise edge out of mediocrity and offer some hope that the recent renaissance is for real.
“None of that means anything,” Paul said. “The division, who we beat during the season -- none of that means anything. … For me, all I’m focused on is Game 6.”
Winning at Memphis will be difficult. The Clippers have lost the last two games there by 12 and 21 points. The Grizzlies are rolling now, having won the last three games by an average of 14.3 points. But the Clippers have won in Memphis in must-win situations before.
Last year, the Clippers won Game 7 of their first-round series at FedEx Forum. Just a couple of weeks ago, L.A. defeated the Grizzlies in Memphis with home-court advantage in this series on the line. Even in the two lopsided losses last week, the Clippers were within single digits at the end of three quarters.
“We know we have to play better, regroup and see how healthy we can get between now and then,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’re not going to lay down. We're going to never give up, we’re going to play hard, play together and do what we can to make it work.”
It stands a better chance of working well if Griffin can play. The All-Star forward was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder in the regular season. He landed on teammate Lamar Odom’s foot during practice Monday and tried to play through the pain Tuesday, but had to come out near the end of the third quarter.
“When I feel like I can’t really do what I need to do to help our team, I don’t want to put our team at risk and make it worse,” Griffin said.
It’s still too early to determine Griffin’s status for Friday’s game. And even with a healthy Griffin, it won’t be easy for the Clippers to keep this series alive.
“It’s a challenge,” Griffin said. “They’re tough at home, but we’ve gotten tough wins at their place before so you can’t really rule anything out. Obviously, this is it. Our backs are against the wall. We have to play with a sense of urgency or obviously everybody knows what happens.”