It was 10:45 a.m. on Saturday when Doc Rivers sat behind a dais inside Staples Center. Nearly two hours remained before tipoff against Memphis.
“I hate afternoon games,” the Clippers’ coach said.
What followed did little to change his stance.
The Clippers heard boos in their own building amid a 140-114 defeat that had less to do with time of day and more to do with their lack of shooting, energy and defense.
Memphis won the battle for loose balls, pushed ahead in transition for 22 points and took advantage of the injury-related absences of Patrick Beverley and Paul George, two of the Clippers’ best defenders, to make nearly half of their first-half shots from beyond the three-point line.
Montrezl Harrell scored a team-high 26 points for the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard added 22 points.
Jae Crowder made six of his 11 three-pointers to score 27 points to lead the Grizzlies.
The Clippers (25-12) have used halftime to correct course after first-half struggles before this season. But after trailing by eight through two quarters, the Clippers allowed the Grizzlies to score the first seven points of the third. One of those points was from a technical-foul free throw stemming from the end of the first half, when Leonard earned only the second regular-season technical of his career after vociferously arguing an out-of-bounds call.
Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas, left, and forward Ja Morant, right, battle for a rebound with Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Memphis Grizzlies forward Ja Morant runs over Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell while driving to the basket during the first half. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shouts in frustration after a missed scoring opportunity against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first half. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard shows his frustration during a 140-114 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Rivers’ loathing for early tipoffs stemmed from the rhythm he said it robbed from both teams and the advantage it steals from home teams, in particular.
“You have your rituals and your way, and you give it all up when you’re at home now because now you’re out of sorts,” he said. “You can’t eat your lunch at the same time, you can’t prepare. I thought as a player you get in a middle of a game sometimes, in the fourth quarter and, ‘Oh, I’m waking up.’”
The coach’s pregame comments were prescient, because as Memphis began building an 18-point lead in the first quarter, the Clippers were unable to answer. It was the third time this season they had gone an entire first quarter without making a three-pointer. By the time they made their first, with 5:45 to play before halftime, the Grizzlies (14-22) had made 10 from deep.
Memphis rookie point guard Ja Morant had terrorized the Clippers during the fourth quarter of their previous matchup, a Clippers victory in November, but started his work early Saturday. In the first half, he caught an alley-oop lob for a dunk and, later, paused to admire the nearly 10 feet of distance his crossover had put between himself and his defender before making a wide-open three-pointer. The latter play was on social media within minutes. Morant finished with 22 points.
Highlights from the Clippers’ loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Despite trailing by 21 points, Rivers kept starters, including Leonard, in to begin the fourth quarter. The group made headway and injected some energy into an otherwise lifeless arena by trimming that lead to 16 with seven minutes to play. But Memphis answered with a pair of dunks by Jaren Jackson Jr., including an alley-oop play that led to an audible sigh from the stands.
Beverley missed his third consecutive game because of a sprained right wrist. George did not play because of tightness in his left hamstring, which he suffered Thursday during a home win against Detroit. Rivers said both could potentially play Sunday against New York.