MEMPHIS -- The Memphis Grizzlies were in their comfort zone Wednesday night.
That is, in a tight, possession-to-possession game instead of holding a 20-plus-point lead.
The Grizzlies, forced to keep their focus throughout, scored a 105-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 2 of their Western Conference first-round series. The teams are tied one game apiece as they move to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Saturday afternoon.
Although Clippers point guard Chris Paul had 29 points, six assists, five steals and three rebounds, the Grizzlies battled through the barrage by going back to their strength on the inside. Memphis had a 46-38 edge in points in the paint, thanks to Rudy Gay's team-high 21 points and Zach Randolph's 15 points and eight boards.
The Grizzlies won the rebounding battle, 37-28, grabbing 16 offensive boards to the Clippers' four.
"We got back to grit-and-grind basketball," Gay said. "That's what we do. And when they cut the lead close late, we attacked them. That's what you're supposed to do. We never got too comfortable."
The Grizzlies entered the fourth quarter ahead 75-69, getting 10 third-quarter points from Gay. He hit four of five shots in the period, all but one stop-and-pop jumpers in the face of defenders.
Paul, who played 40 minutes, did everything possible to keep his team within striking distance for a late-game run. He rarely killed his dribble, took and hit smart shots and constantly looked for Blake Griffin on the low post.
When Paul went to the bench for a brief rest in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Clippers guard Mo Williams gave his team an immediate lift with five consecutive points. That was Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins' cue to call timeout to get his team settled heading into the game's final 10 minutes.
From that point on, almost every time the Clippers made a slight dent in the lead, Memphis flexed its inside muscle.
"They made all the plays, and we made too many turnovers," said Paul, who had five of the Clippers' 21 turnovers that led to 25 Memphis points. "That's my fault. I turned the ball over way too much. I've got to figure out how to get them off me.
"It's the playoffs. When you get in the lane in the playoffs ... they're going to grab and hold you and stuff."
Everything that the Clippers did in the fourth quarter of their remarkable 99-98 comeback win in Game 1, when they trailed by 24 with eight minutes left, is what the Grizzlies did in Game 2.
Down the stretch, it was the aggressiveness of the Grizzlies guard duo of Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo, and the relentless inside battling of forward Zach Randolph that drove Memphis across the finish line.
Conley had 19 points and six assists, hitting 11 of 12 free throws. Mayo scored 20 points, including 10 in the final quarter when Hollins decided to have Mayo, not Conley, guard Paul.
"Their physicality killed us in the fourth quarter of Game 1," Mayo said. "I take a lot of blame for losing the late lead in Game 1. That's why when I guarded Chris Paul in this game, I tried to body him. I'm a bit bigger than him, so I tried to be more physical than him."
Hollins tried several defenders on Paul, starting with Conley, mixing in some Tony Allen and then settling on Mayo down the stretch.
Randolph was also huge in the closing quarter, with four points and three rebounds. It didn't seem like much, but Randolph and Griffin were banging each other all over the place.
"Zach was Zach tonight, but we all were aggressive," Hollins said. "We just had to keep attacking. It was a hard-fought game, and it's going to be a hard-fought series."
Not even five minutes into Game 2, the script was set. Both the Grizzlies and the Clippers were intent of hammering the ball inside, and the team that had the most fouls to give at the end of the night would likely be the winner.
The Grizzlies ended up hitting 31 of 39 free throws, compared to 13 of 18 for the Clippers, who played without Caron Butler. The starting forward is out for the rest of this series at the very least with a broken non-shooting hand.
"You can't have the amount of turnovers that we had and get outrebounded like we did and expect to win," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "The Grizzlies played their game, creating all those turnovers with all those steals (13). They did what they do best."
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