MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Chris Paul sat in his chair with ice packs on both knees and a towel wrapped around his body, lamenting his poor shooting and the Clippers' lack of physical play when he grabbed his right arm, which began to shake.
The pain registered on Paul's face as he held the same elbow that he bruised six games ago, and yet he insisted, "I'll be all right."
But neither Paul nor the Clippers were all right against the Memphis Grizzlies, falling into a 17-point hole and digging out only enough to fall, 94-85, Monday night at FedExForum.
The Clippers own the tiebreaker over Memphis because they won the season series, 2-1, but the defeat cut their lead to half a game over the Grizzlies for the fourth seeding in the Western Conference.
And if the playoffs started now, the Clippers would face the physical Grizzlies in a first-round series that would begin at Staples Center.
Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro was asked if his team would rather avoid Memphis in the opening round.
"I'm not looking at that right now," Del Negro said. "We've got a lot of basketball left and things are going to change almost on a daily basis. So to worry about all that stuff right now ... we've got to get in the playoffs. We've got to stay focused on what we can do and then all that stuff will take care of itself."
It seemed as if the Clippers could have avoided waiting until late in the game to exert the effort and energy they displayed when they got down big.
"They probably were a little more aggressive than us," said Paul, who had 21 points on seven-for-17 shooting, one for four on three-pointers. "It was a physical game and if you're physical from the jump ball like they were, then refs let it go."
It would seem the Clippers could have done a better job on the backboards. They were outrebounded 48-36. Memphis had 15 offensive rebounds.
It would seem the Clippers could have played better defense from the start. They allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 50% from the field. The Clippers were at their best in the fourth, holding the Grizzlies to 38.9% shooting, forcing them into six turnovers.
The Clippers matched Memphis' physical play in the fourth, but Paul said they should have done that earlier.
"We should have and that's my responsibility," he said. "I told them tonight again, we can't let that happen. We've just got to play better, especially me. All those shots and layups, stuff like that, I've got to make those."
The Clippers, who got 19 points from Blake Griffin and 14 points and 14 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan, didn't make their move until they were down, 81-64, with 6 minutes 59 seconds left.
They went on a 19-5 run and pulled to within 86-83 with 55.8 seconds left.
But Rudy Gay scored on a dunk and made two free throws after a Paul turnover to finish off the Clippers.
"When you dig yourself a hole like we did, you're almost hoping that you can get back into it," Paul said. "We gave ourselves a chance, but we didn't get a stop when we needed to. If we had played like that from the jump ball, we wouldn't have been in that situation."