MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies have a history of playing intense, tough, hard-nosed basketball games, during both the regular season and playoffs.
That was the case again Friday night, the teams playing down to the wire and the Clippers coming up short in a 102-96 loss to the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum.
To make matters worse for the Clippers, All-Star guard point Chris Paul suffered a sprained right thumb late in the fourth quarter while trying to get a rebound against Marc Gasol.
BOX SCORE: Memphis Grizzlies 102, Clippers 96
It already had been a tough night for Paul. Although he had 18 points and 14 assists, he missed nine of 13 shots. In two games since the All-Star break, Paul has gone five for 23 from the field. And the Clippers have gone 0-2.
Paul had missed 18 games because of a separated right shoulder, but came back to play in two games before the All-Star break.
Now he is struggling with his shot and has another injury to deal with.
"I can't catch a break," said Paul, looking down at his swollen right thumb.
Neither could the Clippers when the game hung in the balance and they needed a defensive stop.
They had trimmed a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit down to two points on two free throws by Paul with 1 minute 5 seconds remaining.
When Blake Griffin, who had 28 points and 13 rebounds, tipped a pass intended for Gasol, for a brief second it looked as if the Clippers would get the defensive stop they needed.
But the basketball wound up in Zach Randolph's hands instead. Randolph, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds, scored inside for a 100-96 Grizzlies lead with 49.6 seconds left.
"I thought I got it," Griffin said of the deflection. "I thought I swiped it a little bit, but I didn't see what happened after that. If I had been there a little bit earlier, I probably would have blown the whole thing up."
Inside the locker room after the game, the Clippers all looked at the stat sheet that showed how poorly they shot from the free-throw line.
They attempted 43 free throws and made 27, a woeful 62.8%.
Griffin was eight for 14 from the line. Even Paul, an 86% free-throw shooter, missed twice in 11 attempts.
"Obviously you want to get to the line a lot," Paul said. "But if you get there, you got to get there and knock them down."
When the game was over, after all the pushing, shoving and trash-talking, both teams stood at center court and shook hands, a sign of respect.
"The teams are pretty evenly matched," Paul said.
Still, the Grizzlies remain a thorn in the Clippers' side. Memphis eliminated L.A. in the first round of the playoffs last year and won the 2013-14 regular-season series, 2-1.
Now the Clippers have lost to San Antonio and Memphis coming out of the All-Star break.
And it doesn't get any easier for them. They play at Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City on Sunday.
"The teams that we are playing against are really good teams," Paul said. "It's a good test for us."