MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Chris Paul hit a pair of free throws with 23.7 seconds left, and the Los Angeles Clippers rallied from 27 down to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 99-98 Sunday night in the opening game of the Western Conference series.
Rudy Gay missed a 15-footer with 0.9 seconds left after the Grizzlies squandered a lead they held for the first 47 minutes.
The Clippers lost Caron Butler to a broken left hand. But Nick Young scored 19 points off the bench, including three 3-pointers in the midst of the Clippers’ 26-1 run. Paul finished with 14 points while playing a team-high 38 minutes despite a groin injury that kept him out of the regular season finale against the Knicks. Blake Griffin had 17 and Butler 12 before leaving the game.
Gay finished with 19 for Memphis. Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo had 17, and Marc Gasol scored 14.
Game 2 is Wednesday night.
The Clippers outscored the Grizzlies 35-13 in the fourth quarter, the most points in the fourth quarter by a Memphis opponent this season. Los Angeles also hit 13 of 17 from the floor, including 5 of 6 beyond the arc after hitting only one the first three quarters.
The Grizzlies looked ready to roll as they ran out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter and were up by 27 twice in the third, the last on a pair of free throws by Mayo with 1:34 left.
The Clippers finally got going in the fourth, as the Grizzlies looked like they shut it down way too soon. They had five turnovers in the fourth. Even though the Clippers had seven themselves, the Grizzlies looked lost as they just lost the ball going into the lane or put up shots that had no chance of going in.
Reggie Evans gave the Clippers their first lead at 97-96 when he scored inside with 58 seconds left.
Gay answered with 28 seconds to go with a 10-foot jumper on the right baseline over Paul, ending a drought where the Grizzlies went nearly 9 minutes without a field goal.
Tony Allen fouled Paul, sending him to the line for the clinching free throws.
The Grizzlies seemed to be clicking all across the board. They even hit 11 of 16 from 3-point range after ranking 25th in the NBA this season beyond the arc at 34.5 percent. Against the Clippers, they opened by hitting their four. So did Conley, and he hit three straight, the last with 7:19 left in the third, putting the Grizzlies up 69-48.
Memphis fans couldn’t have been more ready for this chance to start the postseason at home with a sellout crowd on hand. With a good luck charm in a St. Jude patient singing the national anthem, fans had their free T-shirts on and waving the free towels before tipoff.
The Grizzlies were ready too. They opened the game hitting their first five shots and seven of the first 10 in jumping out 15-6, forcing Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro to take a timeout. They quickly led by as much as 20 and had a 34-16 lead by the end of the first quarter, tying the most points scored this season in that period.
This is the Clippers’ first trip to the postseason since 2006. Paul has plenty of playoff experience with 23 games while in New Orleans, but this was the postseason debut for three starters — Griffin, Randy Foye and DeAndre Jordan — along with four of their teammates.
Paul looked a little rusty in the first half with only one point and three assists, all in the first quarter. He sat out the Clippers’ final game of the season with a strained groin, and Los Angeles lost that game to the Knicks along with the chance to start this series at home. Paul picked up his third foul with 6.5 seconds left in the first half.
The Clippers made a run in the second quarter and got within 50-39. But after Gay missed a pull-up jumper, the Clippers had a shot clock violation. The Grizzlies scored the final eight points, the last on a dunk by Gasol just before the buzzer for a 58-39 halftime lead.
Notes: The Grizzlies scored 34 in a quarter three other times. … The Grizzlies went 17-1 when leading after the first and 16-1 when leading at halftime. The lone loss came in double overtime March 13 to the Lakers. … The Grizzlies made nine 3-pointers twice during the season, the last on April 3 against Golden State.