Clippers guard Austin Rivers steals the ball from Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen during first half action at Staples Center.
The energy, passion and intensity that was lacking for long stretches during a year-end six-game losing streak returned in full force in Staples Center on Wednesday night.
The Clippers seemed to unleash a few week’s worth of pent-up anger and frustration on the Memphis Grizzlies, most of it during a furious third-quarter rally in which they scored 36 points to turn a 10-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead entering the final period.
The Clippers, behind the clutch shooting — and timely foul-drawing — of guard Austin Rivers then pulled away in the final four minutes of the game for a hard-fought 115-106 victory, won without their top two scorers, power forward Blake Griffin and point guard Chris Paul.
“We attacked,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “When you play that team, and they have their horses … you take the two best players off each team, let’s see what happens.
“We lost some games we should have won, we got blown out a couple times, but what I love about this group is they keep fighting.”
Austin Rivers, who scored a season-high 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting, found himself about 30 feet away from the basket on the right side with the shot clock expiring and the Clippers clinging to a 104-99 lead with 51 seconds left.
His desperation shot was well off the mark, but Rivers was fouled on the play by Mike Conley and made all three free throws for a 107-99 lead. The Clippers, who made only 13 of 22 free-throw attempts in the first half, went eight for eight from the line in the final 45 seconds to hold off the Grizzlies.
“We were lucky, we were fortunate,” Rivers said of his son’s free throws. “I literally turned to my coaches and said, ‘What a dumb play that was.’ We just ran a double screen that worked. We ran a triple screen, and we got lucky and got the foul.”
Jamal Crawford added 22 points, making three of six three-pointers, J.J. Redick had 19 points, and DeAndre Jordan had 18 points and 20 rebounds for the Clippers, who won their second in a row. Marc Gasol led Memphis with 23 points, and Conley had 17.
It appeared the Clippers would succumb to the Grizzlies’ swarming defense, an early third-quarter play an example of the way much of the night had gone for the Clippers until that point.
Redick took an inbounds pass from Raymond Felton along the right baseline and fired a quick give-and-go pass back to Felton, who thought he had an open layup. However, in swooped Memphis swingman Tony Allen, who swatted away Felton’s shot and scored on a 13-foot jumper on the other end for a 71-59 lead at the 9:32 mark.
But the Clippers reeled off a 24-6 run over the next seven minutes to take an 83-77 lead, Redick sparking the run with a pair of three-pointers and Rivers hitting a pull-up three-pointer to give the Clippers a 77-75 lead at the 3:27 mark.
Jordan’s three-point play made it 80-77, and a Crawford three-pointer from 25 feet out made it 83-77 with 2:14 left in the quarter. Crawford found Jordan wide open for a dunk in the final minute, and Crawford’s two free throws made it 89-83 before Gasol’s runner made it 89-85 at the end of the third.
The Clippers closed the first quarter on a high note, Crawford draining a three-pointer from 26 feet with 4.3 seconds left for a 30-29 lead in a period that featured six lead changes and five ties. They shot an impressive 55.6% from the field, making 10 of 18 shots.
Whether it was the Grizzlies defense, which entering Wednesday had allowed an NBA-low 101.1 points per 100 possessions, or some bad aim by the Clippers, the Clippers went cold in the second quarter, making only eight of 19 shots (42.1%).
A Rivers driving bank shot gave the Clippers a 40-37 lead at the 7:24 mark, but Memphis went on a 23-7 run to take a 60-47 lead, Conley capping the flurry with a three-pointer from the left side with 1:39 left in the quarter.