This is the final excerpt from the our year in review. The Grizzlies are down 2-1 after losing two games by a single point and are facing an uphill battle to regain their footing in the series.
Game 4: Collapse in OT Puts the Grizzlies in a Hole
If Game 3 was supposed to be a statement game, then Game 4 was a must-win for the Grizzlies. Teams rarely come back from 3-1 deficits. The pressure was squarely on the Grizzlies’ shoulders — and by proxy on Rudy Gay’s. Rudy had been a star for the Grizzlies so far in his first playoff series ever. He had led the team in scoring in all three games and had been called on every time the Grizzlies needed a basket. His two 3-point shots at the end of game 3 had nearly pulled a victory out. With Caron Butler playing with one broken hand, this game was squarely on Rudy’s shoulders. However, Rudy was already showing signs of strain in this role, having missed the game-winning shots in Games 1 and 3.
Rudy came out and tried to carry the team, but it was not his night. His 23 point, 7 rebound, 4 assist game looked good in absolute terms but his 8-25 shooting hurt more than Marc Gasol’s silence. Gasol had dominated inside all series, but was held to only 2 points in Game 4.
Despite Gasol and Gay not playing well, the Grizzlies held tight through the first 3 quarters led by Mike Conley’s 18 points. It was assumed heading into the series that Conley was completely outmatched by Chris Paul and that if the Clippers won the series, the blame would likely fall on Conley’s shoulders. So far, that had not been the case. Conley had played Paul tough on defense and was scoring very efficiently. Now, with the Grizzlies’ big stars not performing, Conley was on fire, missing only 1 shot and creating turnovers to keep the Grizzlies within 5 points heading into the fourth.
Once again, the Grizzlies failed to find a solution to the Clippers’ bench pressure in the 4th quarter, and they fell behind by 10 points with 4:31 remaining in the game.
Then, the Grizzlies’ defense kicked into gear, and the shots started to fall. Rudy Gay hit two free throws, followed by a nice jump shot and after a Chris Paul miss, Conley calmly drained a 3-point shot that pulled the Grizzlies within 3 points. The game battled back-and-forth until Zach Randolph pulled the teams even with 20 seconds remaining. Neither team could score in the final seconds, and the game headed to overtime.
Chris Paul, the Clippers’ star, was sensational in OT, as he scored 8 of the Clippers’ 14 points. The Grizzlies made 50% of their shots in OT, but couldn’t overcome the Clippers 67% shooting. The final score, 101-97, meant that although the Grizzlies had outscored the Clippers in the series, they still trailed 3-1 heading back to Memphis for the first of three straight do-or-die games.
Game 5: Grizzlies Send a Message
Heading back to Memphis, the Grizzlies felt that they should not be behind in the series. In fact, some players expressed regret the team hadn’t won all four games in the series. The Grizzlies lost the first game by one point after dominating the entire game. Game 3 also resulted in a one-point loss on a predetermined play that was ill-suited for the situation at the end of the game. Game 4 had been lost in OT. So, instead of having won all four games, the Grizzlies were in a serious 3-1 hole.
That was not to say the team was dead in the water, however. The Grizzlies, despite trailing in the series, still had outscored the Clippers overall as they had lost all three games by a combined 6 points. The game 2 victory was won by the Grizzlies by 7 points. The fans also knew this. Another decisive win in Game 5 would send the series back to L.A. and put the pressure on the Clippers, instead of the Grizzlies.
Game 5 opened much like Game 1 had. The Grizzlies rolled to an early lead. They did this by pounding the ball inside to Gasol and Randolph instead of flirting on the perimeter with Rudy Gay. Gay had been made the scapegoat for the Game 4 loss after taking 25 shot attempts in the game. This game the Grizzlies were going back inside. At the end of the first quarter, Zach Randolph had 15 points, Marc Gasol had 12, and the Grizzlies led 36-22 after one period.
And just like in Game 1, the second quarter was closer, but the Grizzlies managed to extend the lead. At the half, the Grizzlies leading scorers were Marc Gasol with 18 points, Zach Randolph with 15, and Quincy Pondexter, who chipped in with 6 points on 3-4 shooting. Rudy Gay was held to only 4 points in the first half — both due to some nice defense from Caron Butler and the team’s strategy to focus on the big men. The Clippers were led by Blake Griffin, but Chris Paul was held to only 5 first half points on 1-5 shooting.
The 3rd quarter started the now-too-familiar Clipper comeback. Chris Paul was on fire, scoring 12 points in the 3rd quarter, and running mate Blake Griffin chipped in with 5 points as the Clippers outscored the Grizzlies 23-20. The Grizzlies saw their scoring even out as Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo led the scoring with 4 points each. Randolph and Gasol each scored 3 points and Speights, Allen and Conley each chipped in with 2 points. The Grizzlies lead had stretched to 24 points at one point in the 3rd quarter, but heading into the 4th, the Grizzlies were only up 12 points at the end of the quarter.
However, the 3rd quarter did see some of the most unusual situations of the series. The Clippers were called for 4 technical fouls in just over 1 minute and 16 seconds. The first was on Chris Paul for arguing a kicked ball ruling against Caron Butler. Butler followed that technical with one of his own for continuing to argue the call while the ball was being inbounded. Mo Williams was given a technical for complaining about a reach-in foul, and Vinny Del Negro was assessed one for complaining about the second technical. Apparently, he felt left out after all the other technicals were given.
The 3rd quarter also saw Blake Griffin go down with an injury to his knee at the 1:15 mark of the quarter. There did not appear to be much contact, at least in comparison to all that happened already in the series, and Griffin did not miss any playing time due to the injury, but the entire Clippers bench went to surround him on the court. The crowd booed the apparent over-reaction of Griffin and then booed the Clippers’ delaying tactic as they walked over to check on their fallen star. The screen above the court showed an irate Clippers’ fan (what he was irate about is unknown since Griffin received the foul from the refs and was headed to the line) which caused the fans to boo and laugh even louder.
So, after the Clippers’ theatrics, from technical fouls to false concern, the game progressed.
The Grizzlies were comfortably ahead, but no lead seemed safe in the 4th quarter against the Clippers in this series. Mo Speights opened the quarter with a 20-foot jumper to stretch the lead back to 14 points, but the Clippers scored the next 6 points to cut the lead to 8 points with just over 8 minutes remaining. The fans were getting restless. The lead fluctuated between 10 and 6 points until the last minute of the game when the Clippers once again pushed hard. However, Rudy Gay came up huge down the stretch grabbing an offensive rebound off a Zach Randolph missed free throw and putting it back in to stretch the lead to 9 points. Mo Williams went 1-2 from the line to cut the lead to 8 but Marc Gasol rebounded the miss, was fouled, and made both free throws. On the next possession, Quincy Pondexter stole a pass and was given a clear path foul. His free throws and the ensuing possession ended the game.
So, the Grizzlies won the game they couldn’t afford to lose. The crowd left happy, and the team got their confidence back up to return to L.A. The season wasn’t over. Not yet.
Game 6: Grit and Grind to Victory
Game 6 was called a must-win game by the Clippers players despite their leading in the series 3-2. The Clippers wanted to end the series on their home court. Yet, it wasn’t a must-win game for the Clippers. It would be nice, but there would still be another game if they lost.
Game 6 was a must-win game for the Grizzlies. On the road in a hostile environment, if the Grizzlies lost the game, their season was over. There would be no chance for redemption. It was win or go fishing for the Grizzlies.
It was a small difference in motivation, but an important one.
The Clippers were taking the brunt of the damage from the physical series. Chris Paul had suffered either an aggravation of his groin injury or a hip flexor, depending on who you listened to, but one thing was clear. Neither Paul nor Blake Griffin were 100% in Game 6. That would make a big impact in the way the Clippers approached the game.
The Grizzlies opened the game with another strong first quarter. Rudy Gay had 7 points, Marc Gasol scored 6 points, and Mike Conley, taking advantage of Paul’s injury, scored 6 points and dished out 4 assists in pacing the Grizzlies to a 25-16 first quarter lead. Blake Griffin, while not as explosive as he was earlier in the series, led the Clippers with 6 first quarter points. Chris Paul was held scoreless, but did manage a steal and 3 assists.
The second quarter saw Chris Paul and the Clippers’ bench take over the game. Paul, Kenyon Martin, and Eric Bledsoe scored 6 points each. Reggie Evans chipped in with 4 points, and the Clippers outscored the Grizzlies 22-17 to only trail by 4 points at the half. Marc Gasol continued the strong play he exhibited in Game 5 with 13 points and 7 rebounds in the first half. Rudy Gay (8 points) and Mike Conley (7 points) helped keep the Clippers defense from effectively doubling Gasol as well. On the disappointing side was Zach Randolph, who scored only 3 points in the half despite playing a team high 19:30 minutes in the first half. O.J. Mayo, who had been struggling since Game 2, scored two points, and the Grizzlies bench only scored 7 points in the half.
The third quarter saw the Grizzlies return to pounding the ball inside as Gasol scored 10 points (and played the entire quarter) and Randolph tallied 8. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies only other player to score at least 2 points in the quarter was Mo Speights with 4 as the Clippers made a late rally to pull even heading into the 4th quarter. The Clippers’ charge was led by a balanced attack from the starting five as Griffin scored 7 points, Butler had 6, and DeAndre Jordan (who had been held in check most of the series) scored 5 points. Chris Paul and Randy Foye each chipped in 4 points as well.
The fourth quarter started off like every other 4th quarter with the Clippers’ bench turning up the intensity. Marc Gasol was finally given a rest about 2 minutes into the 4th quarter — and that was when the intensity took hold. The Clippers immediately went on a 10-0 run while Chris Paul was resting on the bench. Seldom-used reserve center Hamed Haddadi helped stem the tide with his size as he grabbed 3 rebounds and scored off of a Tony Allen miss to help jump start the Grizzlies on a 10-0 run of their own to retake the lead.
Randolph and Gasol re-entered the game and Z-Bo took over, grabbing 7 rebounds and scoring 7 points down the stretch as the Grizzlies outscored the Clippers 24-22 in the fourth to take the game and force a decisive Game 7.
Game 7: Grit and Grind hits Empty
Game 7 was supposed to be the culmination of the Grizzlies comeback over the hated Flop City Clippers.
It didn’t go as scripted.
The home team had won 9 of 11 previous first round Game 7′s in NBA history. The Clippers had failed to win the last two games and were now back on the road to play one of the better home court teams in the league this season. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ stars, were both nursing mild injuries and the Grizzlies were once again pounding the ball inside to Gasol and Randolph, seemingly at will. What could possibly go wrong?
First, the Clippers’ stars were not as injured as the pre-game hype implied. Second, Mike Conley came to the arena with apparent flu symptoms. That sapped his energy and made his perimeter shot suspect. Third, the Clippers’ game plan was designed to deny Gasol and Randolph the ball. If the Grizzlies were going to win, the Clippers were going to make Memphis win it from the perimeter. Finally, the Grizzlies didn’t shoot well from the perimeter or anywhere else for that matter.
The teams fought tooth-and-nail over the first 3 quarters with the Grizzlies leading by one point heading into the 4th. Once again, the Clippers dominated the 4th quarter and won the series 4-3 as the defeated the Grizzlies 82-72.
The Grizzlies shot 32.5% for the game and only 71% from the line, failed to hit a single 3 point shot in the game and were even out-rebounded on the boards. It was a total collapse for the Grizzlies as Mike Conley went 2-13, O.J. Mayo finished a terrible five game stretch by shooting 1-11, and Zach Randolph, last season’s hero, went 3-12 in the game.
It wasn’t a blowout simply because the Clippers were nearly as bad at shooting the ball as the Grizzlies. Blake Griffin went 3-11 and Caron Butler went 3-12. However, Chris Paul was 7-17, which isn’t spectacular but did result in 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. The Clippers’ bench saw not one, but two big shooting performances as Kenyon Martin (11 points, 10 boards, 5-7 shooting) and Nick Young (13 points, 2-3 from the arc) made up for a lackluster effort from the starting front line.
Rudy Gay, the scapegoat for the series’ loss, was 7-15 in Game 7 and chipped in with 9 rebounds. Marc Gasol, absent for the first 4 games of the series, continued his strong play late with 19 points and 3 blocks but his 5 rebounds weren’t enough, especially considering the size advantage over the Clippers’ backup front line. Tony Allen played with his usual intensity, but fouled out late in the game, thereby negating any hope for a late comeback by the Grizzlies.
The season ended prematurely for most fans, but the spirit and effort on display during the condensed lockout season will surely be remembered long after the pain of the Game 7 loss has passed. The Grizzlies ended the season with the highest regular season winning percentage in franchise history, hosted the first playoff series in franchise history, and hosted the first Game 7 in franchise history. The team placed only their 3rd player in the All-Star game and had their first player named to a 1st team All-NBA list when Tony Allen was named to the 1st team All-Defense. The Grizzlies won their first elimination road game in the playoffs as well.
Now, the fans need to turn to the draft on June 28th, the free agency period that begins July 1, and of course, the return of the Las Vegas Summer League< where Josh Selby and Jeremy Pargo will be joined by the Grizzlies’ draft pick and possibly Lester Hudson.