Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 4/10/12
MEMPHIS As the Clippers iced their knees, showered, dressed and got ready to head out of town, the story of their 94-85 loss to Memphis was written on the dry erase board. 48 rebounds to 36 15 offensive rebounds 50 percent FG 15 assists Asked to translate the numbers, Clippers forward Blake Griffin did not need many words. "We got outworked," Griffin said. "That's what it means." It was not a disheartening defeat. It was only their second in the last 10 games, it came to one of the hottest teams in basketball and with a furious rally at the finish, as they nearly erased a 17-point deficit. But it was certainly a cautionary one. If the Clippers play Memphis in the first round of the playoffs, a possibility that carried a scent of inevitability Monday night since they are separated by a half-game in fourth and fifth place, then they had better be prepared to match the Grizzlies' consistently honest work ethic. Alley-oops, silky jumpers and highlight reel plays are what have made the Clippers the darling of the NBA's marketers and television partners and if you believe DeMarcus Cousins their referees, too. But how far their season extends into April, May and June will be determined by their willingness to roll up their sleeves. In short, they have to play more like the Grizzlies. "They make everything hard," said Clippers guard Randy Foye, who made just 5 of 17 shots. "They make it hard to make that first entry pass, they crash the boards, they get their hands in the passing lane. Credit to them; they played hard." The Clippers had twice beaten Memphis handily, including a 101-85 trouncing in Los Angeles just over two weeks ago. It was a game that sparked a resurgence by the Clippers and by the Grizzlies, too. Since then, Memphis has won at the Lakers, Oklahoma City, Miami, split a pair with Dallas and now has defeated the Clippers all viewed as teams with ambitions for a deep playoff run. "This was a statement game," said Memphis forward Rudy Gay. "We didn't want them coming in here and steamrolling us at all. They could possibly be a team we play in the playoffs. For them to come in here and know it's not easy sends a message." While there is so much volatility in the final 17 days of the regular season the third-place Lakers and eighth-place Denver are separated by 4 games it did not escape many of the Clippers that they could be seeing the Grizzlies again soon. "We look at that stuff," Foye said. "It's definitely in the back of our minds. But we're definitely not backing down. I think a lot of people are afraid to play us. They don't want to deal with our athleticism for seven games. It's tough to stay with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin for a whole series." It did not look that tough midway through the fourth quarter, when O.J. Mayo sank a long jumper to put the Grizzlies ahead 81-64. But when Griffin fed Jordan for a dunk with 55.8 seconds left, the Clippers had sliced the lead to 86-83. That set the stage for the game's most critical sequence. With the shot clock running down and the ball in Mayo's hands, Gay snuck past Caron Butler on a backdoor cut. Mayo delivered a pass and Gay delivered a dunk, boosting the Grizzlies lead and their momentum. At the other end, Paul lost the ball out of bounds with 33.3 seconds left. The Clippers never got closer than five points the rest of the way. "When you dig yourself a hole like we did, you're almost hoping that you can get back into it," Paul said. "We gave ourselves a chance and we didn't get a stop when we needed to. Hey, if we had played like that from the jump ball, we wouldn't have been in that situation." Paul, who winced at the discomfort from the stinger he received in his elbow last week, scored 21 points and handed out six assists, but he chided himself for not shooting better (7 for 17) and for raising his team's intensity earlier in the game. Two players known more for their defense delivered a boost to the offense. Jordan grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and scored 14 points, and Eric Bledsoe, the disruptive defender, added 11 points and harassed Conley when the Clippers made their late run. But it was not enough. The Clippers needed more on this night more willingness to grind, to get physical, to play with greater resolve. This was no secret to them, of course. As they exited the visitor's dressing room and left for Oklahoma City, it was right there, just as it had been on the basketball court in black and white, plain for all to see.
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