LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, then got the ball in the hands of All-Star Chris Paul with the score tied and overtime looming.
That’s when Paul went to work, fighting off Tony Allen’s defense as he tried to drive to the right baseline. Paul got there and put up a one-handed running jumper that went off the glass and through the net with a tenth of a second to go.
The Clippers won 93-91 on Monday night for a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
“That’s why they’re star players. They step up in the biggest moments,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Chris has done it his whole career. In the biggest moments, that’s usually when he’s at his best. He has that competitive drive, which is a gift that not everyone has.”
Allen was supposed to force Paul to his weaker left side, but it didn’t happen.
“It could have gone either way. If he had missed, you could have been saying how good a defender I was,” Allen said. “The guy made an amazing shot and all you can do is just deal with the results.”
The Grizzlies have two days to think things over before Game 3 in Memphis on Thursday.
“It’s not doom and gloom,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We got to go home and there’s going to be two hard-fought battles.”
Paul finished with 24 points and nine assists, Blake Griffin added 21 points and eight rebounds after fouling out of Game 1, and Jamal Crawford scored 15 points on the day he finished second to J.R. Smith of the Knicks for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
Mike Conley scored a career playoff-high 28 points for Memphis. Marc Gasol added 17 points, Allen had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zach Randolph had 13 points while saddled with five fouls for the second straight game.
“We had a chance to win the game,” Hollins said. “We didn’t get enough defensive stops and we missed too many free throws.”
The Grizzlies were 23 of 34 from the line in the game, but just 6 of 10 in the fourth, when Conley led their charge with 10 points.
The Clippers’ bench started the fourth and ran off eight straight points for the game’s first double-digit lead, 81-71. Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes had four points each.
Conley answered with five straight points to close the Grizzlies within seven points.
Griffin and Paul joined the second unit, and Griffin scored on a driving dunk for an 85-76 lead. The Clippers returned to their high-flying ways after Lob City managed just one dunk in the series opener.
The Grizzlies tied the game at 89 on a three-point play by Darrell Arthur.
Paul carried the Clippers over the final 3:46, scoring eight straight points, including a basket that gave them a 91-89 lead with 1:20 to play.
Gasol tied it again when Conley found him alone for a dunk to make it 91-all.
“We thought we played as good a game as we could,” Conley said. “It hurts. We wanted to come here and steal one.”
Griffin won a hard-fought jump ball, but Paul missed a desperation 3-point attempt as the shot clock expired. He redeemed himself and set off a raucous reaction — with longtime Clippers fan Billy Crystal pumping both arms in the air — when he drove the right baseline against Allen and banked in the game-winner.
“We put our best defender on him and Chris was able to get around him going right,” Conley said. “He just hit a tough shot.”
Both teams stayed on the court while the referees reviewed Paul’s shot. It was declared good, leaving Memphis a tick of the clock to inbound the ball but not enough to get off a final shot.
“C.P. made a tough, tough shot there off the glass,” Memphis’ Tayshaun Prince said. “It was great defense and things like that, but things never come down to the last play. It’s what you do in the middle of the game that dictates winning or losing.”
Memphis was outrebounded — 40-38 — for the second straight game, but not by double digits like in Game 1.
“The thing we’re most disappointed in is Game 1, how we all just came out flat,” Prince said. “We were just very flat as a group. The effort was a lot better today, but we have to be better.”
Bulls 90, Nets 82
NEW YORK — The third quarter was about halfway over when Deron Williams knocked down a jumper, his only basket of the game.
It was also the Nets’ first basket of the period. They would make only one more.
Twelve minutes, two field goals, 11 points.
Williams struggled all game and Brooklyn was brutal in the third quarter, losing 90-82 to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night in Game 2 of a first-round series.
So good while winning Game 1, Williams and his teammates weren’t as energetic or effective.
“We said we need to come out and play with the same desperation, but we didn’t. I think they did and we didn’t,” Williams said. “We just go and try to win one in Chicago. The series isn’t over.”
Joakim Noah gutted his way through a foot injury that made it difficult to even run in Game 1, making three fourth-quarter baskets to help the Bulls hold off the Nets’ fourth-quarter charge.
“I thought overall, I thought Jo was very rusty in the first game but willed it, and I thought he willed it again tonight and we needed every bit of it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “To me, it’s obvious we’re a much better team with him on the floor.”
Carlos Boozer had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Luol Deng bounced back from a poor opener with 15 points and 10 boards for the Bulls, who became the first team to win a road game this postseason.
They did it the only way they know how: with bruising Bulls defense.
“I feel like overall our team played passionate basketball tonight and that’s a plus, because it was ugly in that Game 1,” Noah said.
Noah finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls, who host Game 3 on Thursday.
Brook Lopez scored 21 points for the Nets, who shot 35 percent from the field and were just 4 of 21 from 3-point range. Williams was 1 of 9, finishing with eight points.
“We didn’t get stops, which was the key for us because then we couldn’t get out and run like we wanted to,” Williams said. “We have to do a better job defensively next game. I’ve got to do a better job of everything really. This was a bad one for me.”
After an unrecognizable defensive effort in a 106-89 loss in Game 1, when they allowed the Nets to shoot 16 of 20 in the second quarter, the Bulls got back to the mentality that has helped them overcome a number of injuries, including the season-long absence of Derrick Rose.
Noah, who has battled plantar fasciitis and whose status was in question coming into the series, played 25 1-2 minutes, just passing the 20-to-25 that Thibodeau said he would be limited to.
The All-Star center, who grew up and played high school basketball here, missed 12 of the final 15 games of the regular season. He was ineffective in 13 minutes Saturday, finishing with four points, but he was all over the court in the second half Monday, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds and fighting for any loose ball he could get near.
“He’s willing it is what he’s doing, and to his credit,” Thibodeau said.
Joe Johnson scored 17 points but shot 6 of 18 for the Nets, who couldn’t even reach the 87.5 points they averaged against the Bulls in the regular season, let alone the 106 they rang up in the opener.
Two nights after the first major postseason game in Brooklyn since the 1956 World Series, the crowd wasn’t as energetic and neither were the Nets, who didn’t give the fans much to cheer about with poor starts in both halves.
“Our execution when they made an adjustment or when they increased the defensive pressure, we didn’t handle it or react as well as we need to,” Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
The Nets didn’t make their first field goal of the third quarter until Williams’ only basket of the game with 6:35 remaining in the period. Reggie Evans dunked less than a minute later, but that was about it for the Nets’ offense.
Boozer converted a three-point play to start a 9-2 run to end the period, and Chicago was ahead 69-57.
Brooklyn was 2 of 19 (10.5 percent) in the quarter, missing all three 3-point attempts. Noah’s low-scoring backup, Nazr Mohammed, had as many baskets in the period as the Nets.
Chicago pushed it to 14 points early in the fourth before Brooklyn cut it to five. Noah had two baskets around a 3-pointer from Nate Robinson as the Bulls seemed in control again with an 80-68 lead, but Johnson hit two 3-pointers in an 8-0 surge that trimmed it to 80-76 with 4:12 to play.
But Johnson missed an open 3-pointer that could have cut it to one, and back-to-back baskets by Deng and Noah extended the lead to 86-78.
The Nets were trying for their first 2-0 lead in a series since the first round in 2004, when they swept the Knicks. But they couldn’t get the quick pace that favored them in Game 1, forcing themselves to beat Chicago’s defense in the half court, and they couldn’t do it.
“I think it was just one of those nights,” Evans said. “But at the same time, you’ve still got to play defense. You’ve still got to stop them. Still got to rebound and stuff like that.”
There were even some boos from the fans who stuck around to the end and had lost interest much earlier. The overhead video board encouraged them to wave towels during a third-quarter timeout, but it seemed it was mostly missed or ignored, as there was no noticeable response.