MEMPHIS, Tenn.--The Los Angeles Clippers laid a solid base for a road win in the first 12 minutes Friday night, letting Blake Griffin dominate while making the Memphis Grizzlies look like the fourth-worst offense they are.
But before they could continue building, the Memphis bench detonated the Clippers' momentum in a 102-96 defeat.
Led by Tony Allen and James Johnson, the Grizzlies turned an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead, forcing the Clippers to battle uphill the rest of the night.
"We came out a little flat, and their bench changed the momentum of the game," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said. "From then on, we were playing catch-up."
The Clippers tried to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter, climbing back to two points down after trailing by 12, but Memphis pulled in a pair of key offensive rebounds to keep the Clippers chasing.
Even more disappointing, point guard Chris Paul, in his third game back from a separated shoulder, sprained his right thumb fouling Marc Gasol in the final 15 seconds.
Paul seemed concerned with his noticeably swollen thumb after the loss, the Clippers' second in a row.
"I got caught reaching," he said.
Early, though, it looked like it would be an easy night at FedEx Forum. Blake Griffin scored 15 first-quarter points, helping build a six-point lead.
Allen and Johnson, though, checked in and brought tremendous energy.
Allen started Memphis' run by swiping a loose ball and turning it into a layup, and Johnson unleashed three big dunks, including one where he tossed the ball to himself off the backboard before slamming it home.
"I thought that's where the game changed," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
The Memphis bench outscored the Clippers bench, 43-7.
"We're going to have night where we not clicking and the bench is going to have to carry us, and vice-versa," Paul said. "It's not that big of a concern because we are a team. We just have to pick each other up. We can learn from it."
Compounding things, the Clippers missed 16 of 43 free throws, leaving more than enough points on the court in the tight loss.
"It was just one of those games where we missed a lot of easy ones," said Griffin, who led the team with 28 points. "It starts with me. I have to do a better job at the line. I have to do a better job finishing easy shots in order to break that ice a little bit."
Clippers linked to Davis
The Orlando Magic announced a buyout agreement with forward Glen Davis, and with the Clippers thin up front, the two seem like an ideal match.
Davis, who played for Rivers' championship team in Boston, averaged 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Magic.
Rivers wouldn't mention Davis by name before Friday's game, but it's clear the team is interested. Rivers said in order to get any free agent in the fold, he's going to have to recruit.
"You always do," Rivers said. "I'm not going to say any names, but there's more than one team that wants all these guys, at least a lot of the guys. You have to talk to them, for sure."
Brooklyn, another team in the market for a big man, has former Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce openly recruiting Davis.
"I think they always liked him. It doesn't surprise me at all," Rivers said. "That group won a title together and came one game away from winning another one. You'd think there's a kinship."
The Clippers can only offer Davis the league minimum, but their pitch to any prospective free agents won't have anything to do with money.
"We want to win, too. That's it," Rivers said. "Other than that, I'm not a beauty queen or anything. They're not going to come play for me for my looks or anything. But, it's the opportunity of winning is what anyone should want. And we're one of a lot of teams that has that opportunity."
Rivers, Allen share bond
When Rivers first spoke with GM Danny Ainge about becoming the coach in Boston, he asked about the upcoming NBA draft because he had his eye on one particular player.
That guy was Tony Allen.
"I just thought he was an instinctive player. You watched that run with Oklahoma State, he made so many plays, just on knowing the game and his defensive instincts," Rivers said. "Any coach that takes credit for that is wrong. That's all him."
The Celtics ended up drafting Allen, and the defensive-minded guard eventually became a bit of a cult figure in Memphis
Rivers and Allen maintain a strong bond.
"He's one of my favorites," Rivers said.
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