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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Los Angeles Clippers came to town a little over a week ago with momentum and a 2-0 lead over the Grizzlies.
Their four-game skid then ended their season and left lots of questions about the future.
The Clippers were eliminated from the postseason Friday night, losing to the Grizzlies 118-105, allowing Memphis to win the first-round, best-of-seven series 4-2.
"It's very tough," said Clippers reserve guard Jamal Crawford, who struggled in the last four games, including missing all five shots Friday night. "At that point, you are only two games away, but to lose four games when you only need two more, it's a tough pill to swallow."
Matt Barnes, who entered the game hitting only 9 of 24 shots from the field in the previous four games, hit his first seven shots en route to 30 points. Chris Paul finished with 28 points and eight assists.
"I hate to lose, no matter what it is," Paul said. "But it kind of stings. You know what I mean? It's the worst."
Paul wasn't around for the end. His frustration in trying to carry the Clippers as they lost their momentum finally reached a boiling point with 2:29 left. He drew his second technical, sending him to the locker room, probably the last breath of hope for the Clippers, who were trailing 113-99.
Before leaving, Paul shook hands with several Memphis players, another indication even he knew the series was over.
Not only did the Clippers fail to repeat their first-round elimination of Memphis — advancing on this court last season in Game 7 — but now there are questions about next season. Paul is a free agent this summer, Grant Hill is probably at the end of his career, and coach Vinny Del Negro's contract is up.
Last year's first-round victory over Memphis helped Del Negro return for 2012-13. It remains to be seen what elimination in the opening round means, though Del Negro said he wants to return.
"I think we've got a young core nucleus," the Clippers coach said. "Obviously, there are things we have to shore up, but all those decisions will be made in days to come. Obviously, some of those answers are out of my hands."
Part of the Clippers' struggles in the final two games came after All-Star forward Blake Griffin suffered a high ankle sprain in practice a day before Game 5 in Los Angeles. Griffin finished with only nine points and three rebounds in about 14 minutes Friday night coming off the bench.
The Clippers came out with a game plan of being physical against Memphis, which had swung the tempo more to its slow down, grind-it-out style, banging the ball inside to big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Los Angeles committed 33 fouls in the game, sending the Grizzlies to the line 47 times.
The game was so rough that there were seven technicals called, five on the Clippers. Caron Butler, Griffin and Barnes got the others besides the pair that sent Paul to the locker room. Chauncey Billups also got called for a flagrant foul.
And Paul wasn't the only one not around for the end. Randolph, who, like Mike Conley, finished with 23 points, left after receiving his second technical with 1:57 left.
While the Memphis fans celebrated, the Clippers sat in their locker room despondent over a missed opportunity. Barnes sat for an extended period with his head wrapped in a towel. Griffin buried his face in his hands as his injured ankle sat submerged in a cooler of ice.
When the Clippers clinched home-court advantage with a win over the Grizzlies here late in the regular season, the music was on and players were singing.
There was no singing and dancing after this elimination.
"You've really got to give them a lot of credit," Billups said of the Grizzlies. "They did what they do. I think in any series where you have two teams that are pretty polar opposites, the team that imposes their will is probably going to win. That's what happened in this series. You've got to give them credit. They never allowed us to get into a rhythm and run and gun and play the way we played all year.
"Because of that, we lose the series."
Notes: The Clippers did manage to snap a streak by the Grizzlies. Memphis had held opponents to 25 points or fewer in the third quarter in 52 straight games since Jan. 14, a streak 25 games longer than any other in the shot clock era. But the Clippers scored 26 in the third. ... Memphis went 23-1 in the regular season when scoring at least 100 points and is 3-0 in the postseason.