The NBA's most celebrated rivalries have mostly faded away.
That’s not to say bad blood is only the stuff of memories. While storied franchises claw their way out of the gutter and LeBron James mentors NBA rookies around the league, the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are keeping the tradition of genuine dislike alive in the NBA.
Monday night's 106-102 Grizzlies' win over the Clippers might have been just another round in the two franchises' ongoing grudge match. But it sure felt nasty, thanks to a high-spinning kick to Chris Paul’s face courtesy of Tony Allen in the first quarter. It didn’t appear intentional, but it still got Allen tossed.
The Clippers had been undefeated at home this season. But with the Grizzlies in town, the Clippers looked uncomfortable in their home whites for the first time.
Whatever the intent of Allen’s kick, the moment will only further the narrative that to beat the Clippers, you have to hit them. You have to test their physicality, disrupt their composure and go for the jugular.
I know Tony didn't do it on purpose. 'I went mute for a while, just because I hate being hit on the lip more than anything. I just hate having a busted lip. But I know it wasn't intentional, and I didn't expect him to get ejected. I think he thought I was about to throw the ball to the corner, so that's a natural instinct.
Not that we're advocating NBA point guards taking shots at CP3's face but it is interesting that CP3 can be rattled...and muted.
Slapping CP3 around isn't the end-game. NBA teams running offenses through their bigs will make Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan uncomfortable. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol continue to be nightmare matchups for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and the poster boys for beating the Clippers.
Randolph had a game-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 15 boards, while Marc Gasol went for 23 and nine rebounds. Griffin was effective offensively for the Clippers with 23 points but needed 21 shot attempts to get there (11-of-21).
Doc Rivers made it clear before the game the Clippers had to dictate the style of the game, rather than the Grizzlies "Monday Night Raw" version of roundball. Eric Patten of NBA.com had the quote and context:
"We want to play our game,” Rivers said. “We don’t want to be Sugar Ray vs. Duran one.”
In the initial bout between Leonard and Duran, dubbed the “Brawl in Montreal,” Leonard attempted to prove he could defeat the No. 1 welterweight contender at his own game, abandoning the quick and darting style that made him one of the greatest fighters of his generation for Duran’s slower paced, more deliberate style. The June 20, 1980 fight was a remarkable spectacle, but Duran ultimately won via unanimous decision.
Rivers obviously would prefer the Clippers play the role of Leonard in the rematch, when the 1976 Gold medalist and two-time welterweight champion overwhelmed Duran with his speed and buried him the eighth round when Duran succumbed in the final second by way of a technical knockout, turning to referee Octavio Meyran and saying, “No mas” (Spanish for “no more”).
Was Monday night a “No mas” moment for either team? Hardly—this was toe-to-toe from start to finish. The Clippers may have been bloodied, but they were certainly not bowed.
The Grizzlies eliminated the Clippers in the playoffs last year, and the roles were reversed the year before that. How it goes from here is anybody’s guess.
Rivers wants it both ways this season—he wants his guys to be quick, but he also wants them to be disciplined and tough. The "Lob City" label is no longer, to hear them tell it.
The Clippers’ record now stands at 7-4, and the Grizzlies are just a game behind at 6-5, and more importantly for the Grizzlies, the Clippers have yet another ego-bruising memory.
Let the rivalry continue.