HoopsHabit – “Breaking Down Aspects Of Chicago Bulls’ Stifling Defense Against Brooklyn Nets”

The gritty Chicago Bulls shocked a lot of people when they beat the Brooklyn Nets on the road in Game 7 while dealing with numerous injuries. Here’s my HoopsHabit piece on why Tom Thibodeau’s team was able to advance.

2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

NBA Free Agency Roundup – 7/4/12

Another day, another hundred rumors and moves of NBA free agency. Here’s everything that went down today to keep you up to speed heading into Independence Day:

Deron Williams Staying With Nets:

Deron Williams came to his ultimate decision today, choosing to stay in Brooklyn over leaving for his hometown of Dallas to play for the Mavericks. Williams’ contract is a five-year, $98 million deal that will team him up with Joe Johnson for the time being. Williams coming back is great news for the Nets, but for now, he is just a piece of the puzzle that is still missing Dwight Howard.

D-Will decided to stay in Brooklyn in the hopes the Nets continue to brighten their future.

Trade Could Still Bring Dwight Howard to Brooklyn:

According to league sources, the trade for Joe Johnson didn’t quite put the Nets out of contention for Orlando superstar Dwight Howard. A possible trade that would send Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and first-round picks in 2013, 2015 and 2017 to Orlando in exchange for D-12 is being discussed although nothing is set in stone. The Nets are looking for a third party to facilitate the trade, but the Magic are also looking into possible trades with the Lakers, Hawks and Rockets. The Mavericks are also in the running to get Howard, but only if he waits to explore free agency next year. If the Nets were able to swing Howard down to Brooklyn, they would be giving up a lot, but they’d be looking at a potential nucleus of Howard, Deron Williams and Johnson as well as Gerald Wallace, who signed a four-year extension for $40 million, according to league sources.

Is this still a possibility for the on-the-rise Brooklyn Nets?

Eric Gordon Wants to be a Sun:

The Suns have offered Eric Gordon a four-year deal for $58 million and after visiting Phoxenix, New Orleans’ star point guard feels that it is the place for him. The Hornets can easily match the offer as they have been saying they would if Gordon received any max offers, but Gordon’s comments about wanting to play in Phoenix might mean that New Orleans chooses to let him go. Gordon was supposed to form a solid nucleus with rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, but it remains to be seen what the Hornets’ plan of action will be.

The Hornets could match Phoenix’s offer, but will they do it now that Eric Gordon made his desire to be a Sun clear?

Jason Terry Agrees to Three-Year Deal with Celtics:

Jason Terry and the Celtics reached an agreement to a three-year deal worth $5 million annually. Although the deal certainly strengthened the bench with a wily veteran sixth man, Boston remains adamant about their desire to resign Ray Allen and Brandon Bass. The Mavericks can match Boston’s offer, but might not do so if they continue to look into point guards and the possibility of Dwight Howard next year.

Unless the Mavericks match the Celtics’ offer, the Jet will be landing in Boston.

Ray Allen to Visit Miami, LA Clippers:

Boston free agent Ray Allen will be visiting the Miami Heat this week as he continues to take his time with his options. The Celtics are committed to resigning their 3-point shooting veteran and can offer him a two-year, $12 million deal. However, the lure of winning another championship is certainly going Miami’s way after LeBron James and the Heat defeated Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning the title. Allen will also visit Los Angeles this week to hear offers from the Clippers, who view him as a starter. A few other teams are also still pursuing Allen, including the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Timberwolves and Hawks.

Ray Allen is still exploring his options between Boston, Miami and Los Angeles.

Jeremy Lin to Visit Houston Rockets:

A few weeks ago, it was very likely that Jeremy Lin would be returning to the New York Knicks. Now, the breakout star point guard is heading to Houston for a visit. The Knicks are certainly looking to resign Lin, but were unsure they’d be able to match other teams’ high offers and said they planned on playing it by ear. Other teams interested in Lin include the Raptors, Nets and Mavericks, although he is seen as a backup for each of these teams.

Jeremy Lin and the Knicks want to stay together, but Lin is still checking into his options.

More Point Guard Activity:

Now that the Mavericks failed to get their hands on Deron Williams, Dallas is looking for quality point guards, turning their sights on Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin. The Mavericks still haven’t made up their minds about Goran Dragic, who is reportedly having problems working out a contract with the Rockets and visited the Phoenix Suns Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have also taken an interest in Nash, while free agent Jason Kidd has narrowed his decision down to either Dallas or the New York Knicks.

Goran Dragic and Steve Nash are still on the market as point guards for multiple teams.

Raptors Offer Landry Fields Three-Year Deal:

The Toronto Raptors have verbally agreed with Knicks’ guard Landry Fields to a three-year deal for nearly $20 million. Fields cannot sign a new contract until July 11 (when all free agents can sign new contracts), but the Knicks can still hold on to him if they match Toronto’s offer. It remains to be seen whether or not New York would spend that kind of money on a role player with Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith all potentially coming back, however.

The signing of Landry Fields in Toronto may be a play to get Steve Nash to join the Raptors as well.

Pacers Agree to Five-Year Deal with George Hill:

Indiana point guard George Hill signed a five-year extension to stay with the Pacers, though details of the deal were not disclosed. The Pacers will also be looking to keep Roy Hibbert, who was offered $58 million in a four-year deal with the Blazers. Indiana will have to match that offer to retain their All-Star center. However, if they don’t match, league sources say the Pacers will pursue Denver’s JaVale McGee and New Orleans’ Chris Kaman.

George Hill signed an extension with the Indiana Pacers, ruling out any possibility they had for Nash or Dragic

Nets Add Bosnian Forward Teletovic and Reggie Evans:

The Nets have verbally agreed to a three-year deal with Mirza Teletovic worth just under $16 million. Teletovic, a Bosnian forward at 6’9″, averaged 22 ppg and six rpg in the Euroleague this season. Since the Nets gave away almost their entire bench to get Joe Johnson and would have to give up even more for Dwight Howard, this signing could prove to be a very helpful addition if his game can translate decently into the NBA. The Nets also acquired the Clippers’ Reggie Evans from the Clippers in exchange for a future second-round pick. Evans was signed to a three-year, $5 million deal.

The Nets added LAC’s Reggie Evans and the Bosnian Mirza Teletovic.

Second Round Preview: San Antonio Spurs Vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers showed great resilience and determination in their big road win against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 just a few days ago, but it doesn’t get any easier for them from here. Chris Paul and the Clips now face the offensive juggernaut that is the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, and you can be guarantees they will provide a much more difficult challenge for this talented team in its first year together.

Unfortunately for fans of Lob City, the Spurs will present numerous matchup problems for LAC. Chris Paul has an advantage over Tony Parker, but San Antonio’s depth will not be easy for the Clippers to overcome. Blake Griffin would normally be a challenge for the aging Tim Duncan to handle, but it’s still unclear how healthy Griffin will be for this series. The Spurs’ biggest weakness is talented post players, but Griffin’s post play is limited to his athleticism and high-flying dunks, which will be pretty limited if he’s not 100 percent. And because Duncan will still produce on offense, Griffin doesn’t constitute enough of a challenge from the Clippers in the paint, especially considering how offensively inept DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin have been at times during the postseason.

Will Blake Griffin be healthy enough to give the Clippers an advantage over Tim Duncan?

To be competitive in this series, the Clippers will need to play stellar defense and find a way to slow down this well-oiled offensive machine. That requires a strong defensive effort from the entire roster, because San Antonio’s offense doesn’t ever slow down with their starters on the bench. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Tony Parker and the other big names of this series have excelled in the three meetings between these two teams during the regular season (San Antonio went 2-1), so this series will come down to which role players and supporting cast outplays the other. Everyone knows Manu Ginobili is a threat, but guys like Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and Daniel Green can all put points on the board. The Spurs’ bench is fully capable of extending leads against opposing teams’ supporting casts with a barrage of 3-pointers and good ball movement. So if the Clippers’ bench can’t keep up or gain a clear advantage from their starting lineup, they will have rough time competing in the series.

You can never count out Chris Paul in the playoffs, but if Blake Griffin is anything less than 100 percent, the Clippers are going to struggle against the Spurs’ balance scoring and depth. Los Angeles will be able to do a better job of keeping Tony Parker from penetrating than Utah did, but he will still find a way to facilitate and with so many perimeter and post options to choose from, the Spurs are extremely difficult to guard. Los Angeles needs a constant high level of production from guys like Caron Butler, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Nick Young, who have all had big nights in the playoffs but haven’t been able to consistently do so. The Clippers have a promising future and will hopefully receive a huge boost next year when Chauncey Billups returns to the floor, but they don’t match up well with the Spurs and will likely not be able to overcome San Antonio’s depth.

Prediction: San Antonio over Los Angeles in 5 games

Chris Paul has to keep Tony Parker out of the lane and outplay him on the offensive end.

Memphis Sends Series To Game 7

With a 90-88 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, the Memphis Grizzlies swung momentum back in their favor, forcing Game 7 as they try to become the ninth team  in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit and win the series. And with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin not at 100 percent, this resurgent and dangerous Grizzlies team might just do it.

Memphis had their work cut out for them facing a playoff hole, but the Grizzlies believed they should have been up in the series. After a historic Game 1 collapse and losing a few close games in LA, the Grizzlies were right to think so. But it wasn’t until they started getting their star post players involved that Memphis was able to prove it. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have had back-to-back phenomenal games and with the offense operating through their post players, the Grizzlies once again look like the deadly playoff team that knocked the top seeded Spurs out in the first round last year. After blowing a few double digit leads in the series, it was the Grizzlies who owned the fourth quarter in Game 6, chipping away at an eight point deficit and eventually taking a five point lead with just under three minutes to play. Without Chris Paul making clutch shots or assists to Blake Griffin, the Clippers had little chance of coming back, even with their home crowd waiting to go wild if their team had been able to give them anything to cheer about.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have to give it everything they’ve got in Game 7 or Lob City will have to wait until next year.

Now the series shifts back to Memphis, with all the momentum in the Grizzlies’ favor. CP3 and Griffin aren’t at full strength. Memphis has won two games in a row. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have come to life and look impossible to stop. And Mike Conley is matching Lob City’s star point guard blow for blow. So even though O.J. Mayo and Marreese Speights might be done contributing for the series, the Clippers’ problems with their starting lineup look to be far more troublesome. In fact, it was Los Angeles’ bench that kept the Clippers in the game last night. Eric Bledsoe had 14 points, Kenyon Martin had 10 and Reggie Evans had six points and 10 rebounds while playing his physical brand of defense that helped give his team their 3-1 advantage. Unfortunately for the Clips, Gasol and Randolph are unstoppable right now.

Gasol led the Grizzlies with 23 points and nine rebounds while Z-Bo had 18 points and 16 rebounds. Mike Conley pitched in 13 points and nine assists while Rudy Gay chipped in 13 points of his own. And even though the Grizzlies lost the turnover battle by a large margin (Memphis had 20 comported to LAC’s seven), they also out-rebounded the Clippers by 16. Memphis has been getting the job done down low, they’re now settling for outside jump shots in the fourth quarter, and because of it, they have a great chance to win this series. It’s hard to underestimate Chris Paul in the playoffs, but if he’s not playing at full strength (and he certainly didn’t look like he was last night), Lob City’s promising first year together might come to an abrupt end Sunday morning. The Clippers have their work cut out for them to win an elimination game in front of a packed house in Memphis that knows Los Angeles is vulnerable and believes they can win. If the Grizzlies continue to operate through their talented posts and the Clippers’ two superstars aren’t at 100 percent, Memphis will easily advance.

Z-Bo and Gasol have been unstoppable in the past two games. Will they finish the Clippers off at home?

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.

Chris Paul Leads Clippers To Overtime Win

Blake Griffin may have led the Clippers with 30 points in their overtime win over the Grizzlies, but it was Chris Paul’s complete command over the game and control down the stretch that gave Los Angeles a 3-0 series lead in a huge Game 4 victory.

Mike Conley and Rudy Gay kept Memphis in the game as they erased a 10 point deficit with just under five minutes to play in regulation, but Chris Paul completely took over in the game’s final period. He finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists while minimizing turnovers to keep the Grizzlies from capitalizing. After failing to score at the end of the fourth quarter, Paul made up for it by scoring eight of the Clippers’ 14 points in the extra period. He committed only two turnovers and LAC only had nine total. Turnovers had been a huge advantage for the Grizzlies up to this point as they had been able to get a large number of steals and turn defense into offense. The Clips weren’t perfect and they still struggled with from the free throw line (missing 12 of 30), but they made them when it mattered most. Mo Williams sank two big ones with seven seconds left in OT, giving his team a four-point advantage and putting the game out of reach.

Chris Paul turned his game up when his team needed it most.

The Clippers basically did everything I wrote about in my last post that they needed to in order to win. They hit free throws at the end of the game and they minimized turnovers. They didn’t get as much out of their bench as they’ll need if they advance to the next round against the Spurs, but it was still enough to beat the Grizzlies and take a 3-1 lead. Memphis, on the other hand, failed to fix what has prevented them from getting wins in this series so far: they didn’t turn Los Angeles over, they didn’t put up a consistent effort over a full four quarters and O.J. Mayo failed to contribute for the second game in a row. Rudy Gay had 23 points, but shot just 8-of-25 from the field. Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with a big offensive night, racking up 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds while Zach Randolph pitched in 12 points and nine rebounds. Other than that, Memphis didn’t get much help on offense: Marc Gasol only had eight, Tony Allen had six and Marreese Speights only put up nine.

With the series shifting back to Memphis for a potential elimination game, the Grizzlies will need O.J. Mayo to score more than five points. They’ll need Speights to turn back into an effective power forward despite shortened minutes. They’ll need Marc Gasol to wake up and shoot more than four shots. They’ll need Mike Conley to play exactly the same and hope that Rudy Gay can be more efficient with his shooting. But most of all, they’ll have to bring everything they’ve got for four full quarters. Because even though it took a few games for Chris Paul to get warmed up, he’s fully on fire right now and it’s going to take a lot to down this Clippers team now. And don’t forget about Blake Griffin, who had 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Game 4 and is averaging 21.5 ppg in his first postseason. In addition to their two best players, the Clippers also benefit from Caron Butler being back on the floor. He struggled in his first game back but had 14 points in Game 4. If LAC can get consistent play from Randy Foye, Mo Williams, and/or Nick Young, they will be pretty tough to beat in this round and the next.

Memphis has a lot of things to work on, but one of the biggest is Rudy Gay shooting efficiently.

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.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

No, seriously. Don’t call it a comeback. Because as valiant as it was for the Los Angeles Clippers to find a way to rally from being down 21 in the fourth quarter, Memphis lost this game more than the Clippers won it. After an appalling first quarter, the Clippers played the Grizzlies pretty even for the next two quarters. But despite the fact that they were down by as much as 27, the Clippers roared back in one of the greatest playoff comebacks/worst playoff collapses in NBA history.

Give credit where it’s due; Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and most especially, the Clippers’ bench, never gave up and did what they needed to to pull off the improbable win on the road, which was especially impressive after losing Caron Butler to a broken hand. Griffin rallied from an absent first-half performance to finish with 17 points and 7 rebounds while CP3 managed to rack up 14 points and 11 assists despite a poor shooting night. But it was the Clippers’ bench that surprised everyone and stole Game 1 from the Grizzlies. Nick Young had 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe had nine points apiece. Even Reggie Evans got involved, scoring seven points and making a huge layup that first gave LAC a late lead. If the Clippers can keep this kind of bench production going, they’re going to be dangerous in this series and moving forward. There are definitely areas that need to improve (actually showing up in the first half, Randy Foye only scoring three points, turning the ball over 17 times), but a win like this has to feel good, especially considering they got a crucial road victory.

Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies played great for three quarters before collapsing to Chris Paul and the Clippers.

But as fun as it was to watch as an Clippers fan or someone rooting for the underdog to get the improbable win, it was absolutely miserable to watch as a Memphis fan or someone who understands what it takes to win a basketball game. There’s only one word to describe the Grizzlies down the stretch last night: choke. There are no excuses to dominate a game for three quarters and completely fall apart like that. The Grizzlies played extremely well and couldn’t do wrong: Mike Conley was outplaying Chris Paul, Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights were functioning as an effective 1-2 combo, O.J. Mayo was putting on a show off the bench and the Grizzlies were hitting all their 3-pointers. But then everything fell apart. They turned the ball over, kept taking 3-pointers long after they stopped falling, didn’t get to the free throw line, were out-hustled, and displayed extremely poor transition defense (someone probably should have guarded Nick Young for those back-to-back corner 3’s. Just a thought). All while looking completely terrified and shocked.

When you have your foot on a team’s throat in a playoff game, these guys are taught to step on it. But tonight, Memphis took their foot off, helped the Clippers up, gave them a lozenge and apologized profusely for the whole affair. The biggest case-in-point: When Rudy Gay hit a huge shot to put the Grizzlies back on top with under 30 seconds to play, Memphis cheered for about two seconds before the air in the building completely dried up again. No one was surprised a dumb foul sent Chris Paul to the line, no one was surprised he made both free throws to take the lead back and no one was surprised when Rudy Gay missed the buzzer beater to win it. At that point, everyone in the building and watching at home knew the Grizzlies didn’t deserve to win anymore and the Clippers were going to make them pay. The entire arena was shocked that their blowout had rapidly turned into a competitive game, let alone an upset. So when LAC took the lead for the first time and the impossible thought of actually losing entered everyone’s minds, the tension in the arena was palpable. When an entire arena full of rabid Memphis fans doesn’t go ballistic for a Rudy Gay-go-ahead shot with less than a minute to play in a highly anticipated playoff match, you know that there is a reason for the stunned silence. Everyone lost faith as soon as the Clippers took the lead on a Reggie Evans layup. There was no way the Grizzlies were winning that game, everyone could feel it and the game played out that way exactly.

Memphis is still a dangerous team and they have home-court advantage in this series. But a loss like this definitely shook up this team’s confidence and composure. Marc Gasol looked absolutely terrified in the game’s final minutes, bobbling a few passes and committing a costly turnover that sent Blake Griffin to the line (he made both). Rudy Gay could barely show any emotion other than being stunned, even after he made the shot to reclaim the lead. And the look on his face after missing the potential game-winner said it all: He looked regretful about missing the shot, but he almost looked like he had already accepted the fact the Grizzlies weren’t going to win. Basically, he was nowhere near as emotional or upset as you’d expect someone in his position to be. The Clippers should be concerned about losing Butler and about their overall performance, because they really only played well for one quarter. But Memphis should be even more concerned, because LAC now knows it can compete no matter what the scoreboard says.

Blake Griffin and the Clippers will get credit for the comeback, but the Grizzlies lost this game more than anything.