MEMPHIS, Tenn. Looking down the Clippers bench in the fourth quarter was a sight for sore eyes and fingers, elbows and forearms.
Seating alongside Caron Butler, his left hand wrapped in a splint, and Chauncey Billups, his left foot in a boot, was Eric Bledsoe, who was grabbing his left elbow, and Mo Williams, who was wincing as he flexed his right forearm. Farther down the line was Nick Young who was trying to generate feeling in his right thumb.
The busiest man on the sideline was trainer Jasen Powell, who bounced between the three.
"It gets kind of scary," said Chris Paul. "You see guys at the end of the bench getting worked on and I saw Bledsoe get hit in the arm, and then Mo. Hopefully everybody will be OK because we don't have anybody left."
The Clippers lost a game that once again was there for the taking, this time Memphis swallowing hard as it held off another late charge for a 105-98 victory. That sends the series back to Los Angeles on Saturday tied at one game apiece.
But as disconcerting as the defeat is the injuries that are piling up in what might be shaping up as a long and increasingly testy series. Williams, Bledsoe and Young are each expected to play, but all three were in discomfort at the end of the night. Williams had X-rays on his arm, which he was relieved were negative, and Young had an ice pack on his thumb after ripping off tape and re-entering the game to hit a late 3-pointer.
"Of course they have an impact, they all have an impact," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We lost Caron Butler, our starting three. Nick and Mo and we'll just have to heal up Bledsoe. We've got to go with the guys that are healthy. It's part of the game. We've got a few days in between games, so we'll make it work somehow."
It was not hard to see the impact of Butler's absence. He has the height and the heft to defend Rudy Gay, something Young does not. This prompted Del Negro to start Bobby Simmons, who hadn't played in 10 days, in his place. Simmons acquitted himself well, making Gay work and scoring seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter. But Young was no match for Gay, who led the Grizzlies with 21 points on extremely efficient 9 of 13 shooting.
"He's long and he shoots it high," Del Negro said. "It's hard to get to it and he got to his sweet spots a little bit too easy tonight at times. Rudy's going to make some shots. We can live with them as long as we make him work for them. He got to some of his spots on the elbow a little bit too easy."
Gay proved to be hazardous in other ways for the Clippers. Butler was injured in Game 1 when his finger got stuck in Gay's jersey, fracturing a bone in his hand. Young's thumb was bent back when he was trying to defend Gay and the Memphis forward hit Bledsoe in the elbow as he dribbled past.
The injuries seem to be just another sign that the Clippers are destined to do everything the hard way this season. They have had to integrate new faces since training camp. They suffered through a mid-season malaise. And they closed the season with three losses in four games, costing them the chance to catch the Lakers for the Pacific Division title and allowing Memphis to snatch homecourt advantage.
Then, notably, the Clippers burnished their reputation as comeback kings with their stunning 24-point fourth quarter comeback in Game 1. They played much better Wednesday at the start, but Memphis recovered from an early staggering and gained control. When Gay sank a jumper with 3:51, the Grizzlies had their largest lead of the night, 97-84.
Then they nearly coughed it up. The Clippers had closed to within 99-91 on Simmons' dunk with 1:00 left. But as Mike Conley missed a jumper, Paul was whistled for grabbing Marc Gasol, who was setting a screen, with 47 seconds left.
That blunder was compounded by another. Gasol missed both free throws, but Zach Randolph rode Blake Griffin out of the play and grabbed the rebound, the last of 16 on the offensive end for Memphis. He was fouled and made one of the two free throws.
Paul and Griffin shouldered much of the load, with Paul scoring 29 points and adding six assists and five steals, and Griffin scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds. But they combined for 9 of the Clippers' 20 turnovers, the second most they've had this season. The turnovers and the offensive rebounds were too much to overcome.
"We definitely feel comfortable going home with a split," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. "But in reality we felt like we should have two games right now."
But that's how it has been for the Clippers this season. Adversity hasn't been nearly as challenging as success.