By Ron Higgins, The Sports Xchange
MEMPHIS - The last time the Los Angeles Clippers were seen in Memphis, they broke hearts last April by winning the seventh game of a Western Conference first-round playoff series over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bowed up and expecting a wire-to-wire fight in their first trip to FedExForum since the playoffs, the Clippers were as stunned as anybody after destroying the Grizzlies, 99-73, on Monday night.
The Clippers (29-9) and the Grizzlies (24-12) each played without their best player, with L.A. point guard Chris Paul (bruised right knee) and Memphis forward Rudy Gay (attending grandmother's funeral) sitting out respectively.
But from the moment that Clippers' forward Blake Griffin roared in for a game-opening dunk, to total domination by a Clippers' bench that scored 54 points -- even outscoring the Grizzlies' starters -- the totality of the victory was stunning and unexpected considering the competitiveness of last year's playoff series.
"You come into every game expecting a fight, but when you do that and execute defensively, then sometimes games aren't close," said Griffin, who scored 10 points playing just 25 minutes because of the welcomed blowout.
Memphis made it first 5-of-8 shots, then began getting erased by the Clippers' defense. Whether it was temporary starting point guard Eric Bledsoe disrupting the timing of the Grizzlies' offense by pressuring Griz point Mike Conley, or the length and athleticism of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan forcing Memphis to miss point blank shots, the end result was the largest victory margin in this series by the Clippers.
Los Angeles, getting 16 points each from reserves Jamal Crawford and Eric Barnes, and 14 from Bledsoe, left the proud Grizzlies in the dust with a 20-2 run over a 5:30 minute stretch that started late in the first quarter and ended in the third.
The Clippers' 46.1 percent shooting performance from the floor seemed twice as lethal, considering Memphis' 30.6 percent was the worst home shooting exhibition in franchise history.
"What got us beat was our lack of intensity, effort and competitiveness and not being able to finish the easy stuff around the basket," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "The whole game summed up that we weren't competing at a high level. They (the Clippers) came in here, wanted to show us that they're the best team in the West and they did. They may be the best team in the league right now."
Clippers' coach Vinny Del Negro, knowing his team was without Paul (who got hurt late in Saturday's three-point loss to Orlando) and might be for a few more games (the Clips have two games left in this three-game road trip), was hoping team defense and steady play by Bledsoe would get his team a win.
Del Negro got more than that. Between Bledsoe and Crawford, who played backup point, the Clippers got 30 points, 6 assists and one turnover from the two-headed point guard that replaced Paul.
"Eric was solid," Del Negro said. "He controlled tempo, he got us into our sets and he attacked the defense when needed. Jamal came in, played defense, made sure the ball kept moving and he hit some shots."
Because of that, the Grizzlies never had a chance. The Clippers stayed aggressive, yet never got sloppy, because they knew Memphis thrived on transition offense from turnovers.
What puzzled the Grizzlies, understanding that the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder are at the top of the Memphis' hit list after those teams eliminated the Griz from the playoffs the last two years respectively, was the lack of energy on Monday.
After the Grizzlies beat the Spurs last Friday for Memphis' fourth straight win, they sleepwalked through a 21-point loss at Dallas on Saturday and followed it with a comatose effort vs. the Clippers.
"Blake Griffin's dunk on the first play of the game sums up our lack of effort," Conley said. "It's embarrassing. That's not how we're built. We're no longer the underdogs. People know us, and people know that we are a good team. We're going to get everybody's best shot, so we've got to start picking it up soon."
NOTES: The Clippers' 26-point victory margin on Monday was the team's eighth win by 20 or more points this season, and at least their sixth win by at least 22 points since Dec. 2. ... Griz forward Zach Randolph recorded his league-leading 25th double-double of the season, with 15 points and 12 rebounds. ... The Clippers, second in the NBA in bench scoring (averaging 41 points) had 54 bench points vs. the Griz.