MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Chris Paul hit a free throw with 18.3 seconds left, and the Los Angeles Clippers edged the Memphis Grizzlies 91-87 Saturday night in a preview of a possible first-round playoff series.
The Clippers won their fifth straight overall and took the season series 3-1 for what could be a crucial tiebreaker giving Los Angeles home-court advantage in the postseason even though the teams now are tied at 54-26. That puts them both one-half game behind Denver for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers with 16 points. Paul finished with 13, Blake Griffin had 12 and Willie Green 10.
Marc Gasol had 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Memphis. Zach Randolph finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Tayshaun Prince scored 13, and Mike Conley added 12 points and six assists.
These teams met in the first round last season, and the Clippers took Game 7 on the Grizzlies' floor to win the series.
Memphis came in with a one-game lead over the Clippers for the chance to start the postseason with home-court advantage and had won seven of its last eight. The Grizzlies lost that edge when they went cold for a couple stretches in the fourth quarter, including the last 3:33 when they scored only on Zach Randolph's fallaway jumper with 23.5 seconds left.
This game had all the intensity of the postseason with 15 ties, 10 lead changes and neither team leading by double digits.
The Clippers had their biggest advantage at nine in the fourth quarter, using a 14-0 run to take control of the game for good. Memphis whittled that down to one point twice down the stretch. After Paul split a pair of free throws with 18.3 seconds left, Conley tried to throw the ball into the post and Matt Barnes got the steal with 3.8 seconds left.
Two free throws by Jamal Crawford provided the final score.
Everything about the game was close with the Grizzlies having a 48-46 edge in scoring in the paint and a 20-17 advantage on second-chance points, although the Clippers outrebounded Memphis 45-43. The Grizzlies had a 12-11 edge on fast-break points.
Memphis finished the third with five straight points to take its biggest lead at 73-68 heading to the fourth quarter. The Clippers answered with 14 straight points keyed by five apiece by Grant Hill and Eric Bledsoe. Ryan Hollins capped the spurt with a dunk for an 86-77 lead with 6:17 left.
The Grizzlies went scoreless for 3½ minutes during that stretch before Randolph finally had a putback with 6:01 remaining for the first of eight consecutive points. The last was a free throw by Conley on a technical on Hill for a defensive 3-second call with 3:34 left, pulling Memphis to 86-85. Paul then hit a long 3-pointer with 3:00 to go to give the Clippers enough of a buffer.
Randolph and Griffin battled each other, including a tussle in the second quarter under the Grizzlies' basket where Randolph wrapped his right arm around Griffin's neck in a takedown that finished with him on top of Griffin. Randolph got off lucky as officials handed out double fouls.
NOTES: The Clippers improved to 41-4 when leading after the first quarter this season. ... The teams had their sloppy moments at times, but they each had only three turnovers apiece in the second half. ... The loss snapped Memphis' 13-game home winning streak with the Clippers handing the Grizzlies' their first home loss since Feb. 5 against Phoenix. ... The Grizzlies also missed a chance to set a franchise record for home wins. They are stuck at 31-9 with the season finale against Utah on Wednesday night their last chance to top the 31-10 mark of the 2003-04 squad. ... The Clippers now have won two straight road games, adding to their team record with a 23rd road win this season.