Chris Paul hit a free throw with 18.3 seconds left, as the Los Angeles Clippers edged the Memphis Grizzlies 91-87 on Saturday night in a preview of a possible first-round playoff series.
The Clippers won their fifth straight overall and took the season series 3-1 for what could be a crucial tiebreaker, giving Los Angeles the home-court advantage in the postseason even though the teams now are tied at 54-26. That puts them both one half-game behind Denver for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers with 16 points, while Paul finished with 13, Blake Griffin had 12 and Willie Green 10.
Marc Gasol had 18 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Memphis. Zach Randolph finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Tayshaun Prince scored 13 and Mike Conley added 12 points and six assists.
The teams met in the first round last season, when the Clippers took Game 7 on the Grizzlies’ floor to win the series.
Memphis came in with a one-game lead over the Clippers for the chance to start the postseason with home-court advantage and had won seven of their last eight. The Grizzlies lost that edge when they went cold for a couple stretches in the fourth quarter, including the last 3 minutes and 33 seconds when they scored only on Zach Randolph’s fallaway jumper with 23.5 seconds left.
This game had all the intensity of the postseason with 15 ties, 10 lead changes and neither team leading by double digits.
The Clippers had their biggest advantage at nine in the fourth quarter, using a 14-0 run to take control of the game for good. Memphis whittled that down to one point twice down the stretch. After Paul split a pair of free throws with 18.3 seconds left, Conley tried to throw the ball into the post and Matt Barnes got the steal with 3.8 seconds left.
Two free throws by Jamal Crawford provided the final score.
In Orlando, Courtney Lee scored 20 points and Jeff Green added 17 as the Boston Celtics cruised to a 120-88 victory over the Orlando Magic.
The win locked up the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference for Boston, who never trailed in winning their eighth straight over Orlando.
All five Celtics starters reached double figures, with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce scoring 14 and 12 points respectively after resting on Friday against Miami.
Tobias Harris led the Magic with 22 points.
Elsewhere, the Charlotte Bobcats handed the Milwaukee Bucks their ninth straight road loss, 95-85, locking the Bucks into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, meaning that they will draw defending champions Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
Also on Saturday, Ricky Rubio had a career-high 24 points, 10 assists and five steals, while J.J. Barea scored 16 points to lead Minnesota past Phoenix 105-93.
Kobe Bryant’s season is over after he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the Los Angeles Lakers’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
Bryant, the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history, will undergo surgery on Saturday, the team said.
Bryant sustained the injury with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter.
He will miss any playoff action for the Lakers if they can hang on to secure the final berth in the Western Conference and may well miss a chunk of next season.
However, the 34-year-old was quick to dismiss talk of his career being under threat.
“Really, are you kidding?” he responded to reporters in the locker room. “Obviously, there’s a bunch of players that have had this same injury, so I know I can do this.”
The Lakers have recovered from a poor start to the season to push themselves into playoff contention, but their chances of making an impact will be sorely hurt by the loss of their leading player.