Grizzlies’ Bigs Arrive

The Los Angeles Clippers had all the momentum heading into Game 5, but the Memphis Grizzlies played their patented style of basketball and forced another game with a 92-80 win last night.  It took almost an entire series, but the Memphis Grizzlies finally returned to operating through their talented post players instead of Rudy Gay, making them a very dangerous team. Marc Gasol, who was averaging just 10.3 ppg heading into last night’s potential elimination game, finally got involved on offense and led the Grizzlies with 23 points. Zach Randolph, who has failed to live up to his heroic playoff performance last year, notched a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. And Rudy Gay, who had been hoisting up 17.8 shots per game, only put up 14 as Memphis seemed to remember what made them so effective in the postseason last year: operating through their skilled bigs.

When the Grizzlies’ frontcourt shows up to play, they are incredibly tough to beat. So far, Los Angeles has benefitted from a Memphis offense consisting of Rudy Gay jacking up a bunch of perimeter shots. They also have outlasted surprisingly proficient scoring nights from Mike Conley. But last night, Marc Gasol finally played well against the Clippers’ Reggie Evans, who has been a defensive nightmare for the Grizzlies up to this point. So even though Conley and Gay only scored a combined 23, Memphis still came out on top after their sizable lead dwindled down to just six points with less than a minute to play. The Grizzlies had surrendered large leads in the fourth quarter but were finally able to hang on to one and extend the series to six games. However, as helpful as it was for the Grizzlies to revert back to what makes them a dangerous playoff team, they did receive a little bit of help from Los Angeles, especially in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have been the two most dominant players on the court so far in the series, both missed time in the decisive fourth quarter because of injuries. Paul  strained his right hip flexor and Griffin sprained his left knee. With the Clippers’ two best players in and out, it’s no surprise the Grizzlies were able to hold off a late Los Angeles run.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both missed some time with injuries. Will they be healthy enough to close out Memphis at home?

With the series shifting back to LA for Game 6, the Clippers absolutely need to finish this series off at home. Which means CP3 and Griffin will have to be able to play like they are 100 percent healthy. It’s no question about whether or not these two will take the floor tomorrow night; but whether they will be effective or not is a pretty serious issue. Outside of Paul and Griffin, this Clippers team can’t hold off the Grizzlies, especially if they continue to play like they did yesterday. Mo Williams led Los Angeles with 20 points and Randy Foye pitched in 11 yesterday, but the Clippers can’t contend unless Griffin and Paul are both putting up 20-30 points every night. The Grizzlies have confidence and they’ve gone back to the style of play they’ve been missing for this entire series. If Paul and Griffin can’t do what they normally do, the Clippers are in serious danger of dropping the series.

For the Clippers to win, they need Paul and Griffin to be healthy and continue to do what they do best. But they also need continued production from guys like Mo Williams, Caron Butler and Randy Foye. And although Reggie Evans doesn’t have a knack for scoring, he should be starting over DeAndre Jordan by now, because if he can irritate Gasol and shut him down like he has for the majority of this series, the Grizzlies will come up short again. From Memphis’ perspective, they need to operate through their big men just like they did in Game 5. You’d like to see Rudy Gay and Mike Conley get a little bit more involved on offense, but Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol still need to be the main focus here. Another thing the Grizzlies will focus on doing is using their scrappy defense to force turnovers again. After leading the league in steals, Memphis needs to put pressure on Chris Paul and the rest of the Clippers’ point guards and turn defense into offense. Finally, the Grizzlies would really be in good shape if they could get anything more out of O.J. Mayo. Mayo put up 18.5 ppg in the Grizzlies’ first two playoff games but has averaged just 5.7 in the last three. So even though Quincy Pondexter has been a nice surprise off the bench, they’ll need Mayo to start contributing again if they want to be a serious contender.

Marc Gasol finally had a great game and the Grizzlies won. This is not a coincidence.

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Clippers Hold On, Take 2-1 Lead

The Los Angeles Clippers held off the Memphis Grizzlies and a late offensive onslaught from Rudy Gay yesterday to earn their first home playoff victory in six years. Despite missing some key free throws down the stretch, the Clippers beat the Grizzlies 87-86 in Staples Center and grabbed a 2-1 series lead. But for Memphis, a couple of bonehead plays were the biggest difference between winning and losing a game that came down to a missed shot at the buzzer.

Then again, if the Clippers had taken care of business at the free throw line, it wouldn’t have even been a close game. Los Angeles shot a paltry 43 percent from the line and missed 17 of 30 free throws, including Eric Bledsoe’s two attempts that would have given the Clips a three point lead with less than ten seconds to go. Rudy Gay had just hit two threes in a row to pull the Grizzlies within one, so missing those free throws with the game on the line was almost an extremely costly mistake and would have been one of the worst last-minute collapses I’ve ever seen if Gay’s double pump jump shot at the buzzer had gone in. That being said, even though the Clippers’ free throw shooting hurt them, the Grizzlies’ inability to finish a game out and a few poor decisions gave Los Angeles momentum and ultimately, the win.

Rudy Gay missed his second potential game-winner of the series. But that was just one of many Memphis mistakes that lost Game 3.

The first mistake that made the difference in this game (from a simple scoreboard perspective, at least) was Marreese Speights’ horrible decision to throw a soft past to half court with 2.3 seconds left in the first half. Blake Griffin easily intercepted it and slammed it home right over Speights, who offered no resistance and actually tried to get out of the way. The pass was bad enough, but Speights compounded his poor decision by not fouling Griffin and making him earn the two points that ultimately mattered in a one-point game. The second poor decision on Memphis’ part was made by Mike Conley at the very end of the game. I’ve been stressing all year how important it is to attack the basket with the game on the line, which makes Conley’s decision to pull the ball back and pass it over to Gay for a contested jumper at the buzzer questionable. In his defense, Conley isn’t a prolific scorer and Rudy Gay had just hit two incredible, contested 3-pointers to keep his team in the game. So I understand his thought process and at least he didn’t do a few crossovers before pulling up for some ridiculous fadeaway 3-pointer like we see from so many superstars today. But after Bledsoe missed that second free throw, there were about eight seconds left and the Clippers’ defense was in transition. Had Conley attacked the basket and tried to get to the rim or at least the free throw line, Memphis could have pulled off the incredible last-minute comeback. But instead, Gay had to double pump his contested jump shot with the game on the line (after already missing a game-winning attempt in Game 1) and it rimmed out.

Moving forward, both teams need to alter a few things to increase their chances of winning. On the Clippers’ side of things, they have to shoot better from the line. While it was a good sign to see Caron Butler playing despite the broken hand (he played in a splint) and the bench finally contributing, they’ll have an even bigger advantage if they make their free throws and take better care of the basketball. LAC also needs the bench to continue to produce on the offensive end to take the burden off Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Aside from Mo Williams and Nick Young putting up some points, Randy Foye dropping 16 after scoring just nine in his last two games was a very welcome sight. And despite going just 2-for-8 from the free throw line, Reggie Evans has taken over DeAndre Jordan’s minutes by outperforming him on the offensive end and grabbing rebounds, evidenced by his four points and 11 rebounds compared to Jordan’s zero points and three rebounds in Game 3. For the Grizzlies, O.J. Mayo, Marreese Speights, Tony Allen and Mike Conley all disappeared offensively, even if Quincy Pondexter had a surprisingly elevated offensive night. Zach Randolph seems to be distancing himself from Speights now that he’s moved back into the starting lineup but the Grizzlies will still need him to be productive coming off the bench. Memphis also needs to learn how to bring the same effort and energy for a full four quarters, as they’ve surrendered two fourth quarter leads and should be up 2-1 (at least) in this series. This playoff matchup is still very much up in the air, but if the Clippers improve where they need to, they’ll ultimately benefit from having home-court advantage in two of the next four potential games and have a greater chance of winning the series.

Blake Griffin and company have the 2-1 lead, but need to improve in a few areas like free throws and turnovers.