LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Clippers didn’t have to face longtime tormentor Allen Iverson(notes) with the Memphis Grizzlies in town. That helped keep their modest winning streak alive—along with a missed 3-point shot by Rudy Gay(notes) at the final horn.
Craig Smith(notes) had 18 points for the Clippers, whose 19 wins last season included consecutive victories over Portland, Houston and Oklahoma City—the first one coming in double overtime on the road. They then lost 15 of their next 17.
“We scraped it out tonight and we got some stops down the stretch,” Kaman said. “It was good to get another win. We’ve just got to keep building on this. I’m happy where we’re at right now, but we’ve got to continue to play hard and try to get some more wins.”
Iverson, who has played in only three games for his new team after injuring a hamstring, received permission from team owner Michael Heisley to return home to Atlanta and attend to personal business.
Iverson’s departure temporarily diverted his teammates’ attention from the controversy the four-time NBA scoring champ and 10-time All-Star set in motion because of his new status as backup point guard on coach Lionel Hollins’ 1-6 club.
According to a team spokesman, Iverson participated in a walkthrough at the team’s hotel in the morning and then hopped a flight in the afternoon after he and personal manager Gary Moore met with Heisley. Hollins spoke to him briefly before he left, but would not elaborate on the conversation.
“It’s a personal issue that they asked for permission to go attend to,” Hollins said. “It was granted, and it’s indefinite. I have no other information.”
During a play stoppage with 3 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter, a fan sitting within earshot of the Grizzlies bench yelled: “Hey, Lionel, we paid to see A.I.”
“I understand star power, and that’s to be expected,” Hollins added. “I wouldn’t mind even talking about Allen’s star power if it was about the game and his performance during the game, versus what Allen has said and what he will or won’t do.”
Gay, who averaged 28.6 points in his three games against the Clippers last season, led Memphis in this one with 33. Marcus Williams jumped up a notch on the depth chart with Iverson away, getting seven points and six assists over 17 minutes. Starting point guard Mike Conley(notes) played 31 minutes, finishing with 16 points and six assists.
“It’s tough when you have somebody in the rotation and get used to it, and then somebody goes out of the rotation,” Conley said. “You have to get used to a whole different routine. But we have to adjust and get past it.”
Zach Randolph(notes), who averaged 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Clippers in 39 games last season after he was acquired from New York, had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Memphis in his return to Staples Center. Randolph was traded to the Grizzlies in July for Quentin Richardson(notes)—who was subsequently dealt to Minnesota and then to Miami.
Tied at 82 after three quarters, the Grizzlies got a three-point play from Williams to take a 93-88 lead with 9:06 left. Baron Davis(notes) picked up his fifth foul on the play, but the Clippers tied the score 99-all with 5:33 remaining after Chris Smith made a pair of layups 19 seconds apart—the second one after Randolph missed a 20-footer at the other end.
The Clippers made only one field goal after that—a 3-pointer by Rasual Butler(notes) with 3:13 left—but maintained their lead by making 11 of 16 free throws. Gay had a chance to tie it, but missed a 23-footer at the horn.
“At that point, you’ve got to scramble and try to get a shot. And we did,” Hollins said. “It was the best look we could get—a wide-open 3-pointer. And it was the guy we wanted.
“I just told the guys it’s the little things that separate winning and losing. We had our chances to make plays, but we had some turnovers and a couple of lapses on defense. In close games, you try to take advantage of your possessions. You’ve got to keep pounding it and grinding it until you get when you want.”
NOTES: Clippers small forward Al Thornton(notes), who scored a career-high 39 points against the Grizzlies on March 28, 2008, came off the bench for the third straight game after starting the first four as a starter in the first four games of the season. He finished with six points in 17 minutes, after playing four scoreless minutes in Friday night’s 118-90 win at Golden State. Thornton started 67 of 71 games last season.