MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers refused to let a third chance to knock the Memphis Grizzlies out of the playoffs slip away.
Kenyon Martin scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, and the Clippers advanced to the Western Conference semifinals with an 82-72 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 on Sunday.
“That’s why it’s seven games,” Martin said. “If you don’t do it before, you get another chance. So they did what they had to do, they came and stole home court back on our floor. … We had a chance to close it out. We knew we let it go, an opportunity get away.”
The Clippers blew an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter Friday night. So Martin huddled the Clippers together at the start of the fourth quarter Sunday, and the veteran led the bench in outscoring the Grizzlies 25-16. Chris Paul had the only bucket by a starter in the final 12 minutes, and the Clippers’ bench outscored the Memphis reserves 41-11 overall.
“Our bench was our MVP,” Clippers guard Randy Foye said. “They realized what they had to do. We had a lot of guys hurt, so we just continued to grind.”
Now, the Clippers have their third postseason series win in 41 years and their second since relocating to Los Angeles. They last beat Denver in 2006. The Clippers also avoided becoming the ninth NBA team to blow a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series in moving on to play the top-seeded Spurs starting Tuesday night in San Antonio.
“I want the guys to enjoy this, and then we’ll regroup tomorrow and focus in on that,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “But obviously another big challenge for us.”
Paul scored 19 points despite playing with a strained right hip flexor. Nick Young had nine of his 13 off the bench in the fourth as the Clippers finished off the series with their biggest margin of victory. Paul was so confident of victory he bought plane tickets for his wife and son to San Antonio on Saturday.
“I felt like we should have won earlier,” Paul said. “But it doesn’t matter. As long as you win, I think it is a step in the right direction for our franchise.
Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol each had 19 for Memphis, which lost a Game 7 at Oklahoma City a year ago in the second round of the playoffs. Zach Randolph had a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Unfortunately, no one on the bench stepped up and helped us,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said.
The Clippers, who trailed 56-55 after three quarters, took control by opening the fourth with an 11-2 run started by a jumper by Martin. He tipped in a shot for a 66-58 lead with 8:41 left. Mo Williams matched the Clippers’ biggest lead to that point at 10 with a 3-pointer pushing it to 71-61 with 7:04 left in a 16-5 spurt to open the quarter.
“They hit shots in a hurry,” Gay said of the Clippers. “They made plays off our turnovers, and they just converted, something we weren’t doing at that time.”
Los Angeles finished off the win by hitting 9 of 10 free throws in the final 3:26. The Clippers also managed to outrebound the Grizzlies 46-44 for only the second time this series.
Memphis got away from the inside-out approach that won the last two games. The Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 36-24, but Randolph said they took far too many jumpers instead of feeding the ball to Gasol and himself.
“You have to take your hats off to them because they played good,” Randolph said of the Clippers. Chris had a good game, and their bench played terrific.”
The home-court advantage that didn’t help the Grizzlies when they blew a 27-point lead in Game 1 didn’t help again Sunday as they went cold from the floor. Gasol’s one-handed dunk with 3:09 left was Memphis’ last field goal down the stretch as the Grizzlies hit only 4 of 18 in the fourth quarter and finished the game missing all 13 3-pointers.
This series has been physical and grinding from the opening tip, and neither team backed down in a winner-take-all game.
The Clippers and Grizzlies scrapped and fought for every ball with each possession feeling like a knockdown, drag-out fight. Memphis should have had an advantage against the hobbled Clippers tipping off when they usually eat breakfast on the West Coast. Blake Griffin scored only eight points and looked tentative most of the game with a sprained left knee.
Del Negro said Griffin’s knee tightened up on him as the game went on, and Griffin played only 1:39 of the fourth quarter. Not that it mattered the way the Clippers’ bench came through.
The Grizzlies even brought out wrestler Jerry Lawler to help stoke up the sold-out crowd, but both teams showed the fatigue of a quick turnaround from Game 6 on Friday night in Los Angeles. The Clippers missed nine of their first 10 shots, while the Grizzlies missed seven of nine.
“It was Game 7 pressure and jitters,” Hollins said. “We wanted to do well. We just wanted to let it rip. You walk up here and have two strikes on you in the ninth inning and you have to let it rip. And we didn’t.”
The Clippers shook off the exhaustion thanks to their bench.
The Grizzlies managed to pull within 39-38 at halftime even though they kept struggling to find the basket. Mike Conley missed his first seven shots with his drought stretching to the free throw line where he missed his first attempt. Conley didn’t hit his first bucket until a jumper in the early seconds of the third quarter. Conley finished with seven points on 2 of 13 shooting.
Notes: Del Negro now is 1-1 in Game 7s, losing his first in the 2009 first-round while coaching Chicago against Boston. Hollins now is 0-2 in Game 7s. … Griffin finished playing 28 minutes and was 3 of 11 from the floor. He had four rebounds. … The Grizzlies shot 32.5 percent (25 of 77) from the floor, their worst percentage of the series.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.