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Grizzlies pushed back against the Clippers; could not overcome L.A.’s late-game spurt

Terry Davis

The Memphis Grizzlies will see the Los Angeles Clippers again Friday night after rolling with a lineup noticeably lacking key starters and contributors and coming up nine points short in a spirited confrontation at FedExForum on Wednesday night.

Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones did not suit up for the Grizzlies a day after Memphis withstood a down-to-the wire challenge by the Orlando Magic. Ja Morant, who sat out the Tuesday night game, did start, scoring 36 points (9 assists) in 35 minutes.

Memphis (48-28) lost 141-132 to a Clippers team missing key cogs Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The loss snapped the Grizzlies’ seven-game win streak and ended a streak of twelve straight wins at home. The teams battled again Friday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m.

“We lost, there things we can take from this game,” said Morant, responding to Memphis being shorthanded. “We are never satisfied.  We will watch the film and learn from it.”

Russell Westbrook was the biggest irritant for the Grizzlies. He led the Clippers with 36 points and 10 assists. L.A.’s bench outscored Memphis’ reserves 66-21.  Robert Covington, who played at Tennessee State, had 27 points off the bench; Bones Hyland had 20 points.

The Clippers shot 61 percent from the field and out-fired the Grizzlies from deep, connecting on 22 three-pointers compared to 11 for the Grizzlies.

“They played with great force, great ball movement, said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “We had too many breakdowns in recognizing our personnel. Westbrook played great, obviously played great in the first quarter, set a tone from the three-point; Covington, seven-for-seven.

“Just too many free looks. Our on-ball defense wasn’t good, poor communication, some situations they took advantage.”

The Grizzlies entered the game with a three-game, Western Conference lead over the third-place Sacramento Kings.  A 13-0 run in the first quarter put them up (18-8) on the Clippers, who cut into the gap and only trailed by a point (30-29) at the end of the quarter.

Memphis’ defensive deficiencies came into play in the second quarter, with the Grizzlies surrendering 41 points. The Clippers led 70-64) at the half, with Westbrook having scored 22 points.

The game was an emotionally touchy affair almost from the outset. In the first quarter, Memphis’ Dillion Brooks was called for a foul on Westbrook. The two exchanged some words and the crowd revved up the boos for Westbrook. And when the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded, Brooks and Westbrook still were jawing, with the referee stepping in to separate them.

Although short on its starters and absorbing the hot-shooting of the Clippers, the Grizzlies had a win within sight deep into the second half.  The Grizzlies took their first lead (93-92) in the second half on a Morant layup with 3:40 left in the third quarter. A triple by Morant knotted the score at 105 as the quarter ended.

With 6:29 left in the game, Morant and Brooks (30 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) returned after a rest and with Memphis trailing 123-122.  The Clippers rolled from there, outscoring the Grizzlies 19-10 the rest of the way.

Ja Morant with and without his protective mask. (Photos: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Morant, who is working his way into better game shape after an eight-game suspension, played 35 minutes and finished the game without the special mask he has been wearing because of a nose injury. He removed the mask because sweat was impairing his vision and said he was done with it.

As for the playing time, Morant said, “It felt good. I am working my way back. We have to be smart.  Tonight, it was me out there trying to get a win.  I was good to be out there.”

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