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After blowing a 27-point lead at home in one of the biggest playoff collapses in NBA history, it’s safe to say Memphis’ 105-98 Game 2 victory over the Clippers on Wednesday might have saved the series. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin gave LAC everything they had, but an all-around team effort from the Grizzlies took care of business and tied the series at one game apiece.
A second loss at home would have sent Memphis to Los Angeles facing a 2-0 deficit and the very real possibility of a sweep, but the Grizzlies seemed determined to not let Game 1’s unbelievable collapse affect the rest of the series. Rudy Gay led the team with 21, but everyone came out firing on all cylinders: O.J. Mayo had 20 points off the bench; Mike Conley played well against Chris Paul again with 19 points and 6 assists; Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights made up an effective 1-2 punch yet again and combined for 26 points and 13 rebounds; even Tony Allen, who is not known for his offense, chipped in 10 points, which made up for Marc Gasol’s poor shooting night. On the Clippers side of things, Chris Paul (29 points, 6 assists, 5 steals) and Blake Griffin (22 points, 9 rebounds) did their part, but no one other than Mo Williams and Nick Young really contributed very much. Bobby Simmons, who started in place of the injured Caron Butler, had nine points in his debut and shot effectively, but couldn’t quite make up for Butler’s absence.
With the series shifting back to Los Angeles, the Clippers still did what they had to going into Memphis: they got a valuable road win and head back to their home court for the next two games. If they take care of business at home, the Clippers exponentially increase their chances of moving on. Memphis put itself in a tough position by dropping Game 1 in such remarkable fashion, but can atone for that mistake by picking up a win on the road in Game 3 or 4. They’ll need to bring the same all-around effort, scoring and defense they had in Game 2 and the majority of Game 1 to do so. If they can also limit the Clippers to just Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, those two guys alone can’t beat this balanced Grizzlies team. CP3 and Griffin will continue to shine and grab highlights, but as long as Memphis doesn’t allow the Clippers’ role players to play well, they will have a big advantage. Another key factor will be making Los Angeles turn the ball over. In Game 2, the Grizzlies got their hands on 13 steals as the Clippers turned the ball over 20 times. If they can continue to get steals while limiting their own turnover (only 12 for the Grizzlies in Game 2), they will take valuable possessions away from an athletic and offensive-minded Clippers team.
On the Clippers side of things, Los Angeles’ depth took a huge hit when it lost Chauncey Billups earlier in the season and now it will have to adapt again with Caron Butler gone. If the Clippers bench can find a way to pitch in some points, Los Angeles will have a huge advantage for the remainder of the series with three of five possible remaining games being played at Staples Center. Chris Paul needs to take better care of the basketball and LAC needs to take care of business at home today to send the message that all that really mattered from that road trip to Memphis was the Game 1 victory. In what will be their first home playoff game in years, nerves and history can’t get in the way of playing a fundamentally sound basketball game. The highlights will come, but the Clippers just need to worry about taking care of the ball and not allowing the Grizzlies’ good defense to translate into offense. Rebounding will also be key, as they were out-rebounded 37-28 in Game 2. If the Clippers take care of the basketball, rebound and get some offensive production out of their bench, they will get their first playoff victory in what feels like forever for LAC fans.