Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers
When: May 7, 2012 – 930 PM (CST)
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Series: Memphis (1-2), Los Angeles (2-1)
Memphis seemed to have the game under control heading into the 4th period but another inexplicable collapse has put the Grizzlies in the undesirable position of needing to win in Game 4 to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Grizzlies have struggled handling the Clippers pressure defense, especially when Conley is on the bench. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are unable to get the ball down low or even in the high post. Only Rudy Gay and O J Mayo have been able to score in the 4th and neither have been consistent enough as Memphis has now blown leads of 27 and 8 points respectively in their two losses. According to the Elias Sports Bureau the Grizzlies now have lost two games in unprecedented manner. First by blowing a 27 point lead in Game 1 and then losing game 3 despite out shooting your opponent by so large a percentage from the line (33.6%). Two rather dubious records to say the least.
Los Angeles feels they nearly let Game 4 slip through their fingers as they missed 17 of 30 FT attempts including 5 of their last 6 attempts in the game. Only two offensive rebounds by Reggie Evans off of missed FTs kept the Clippers in the lead as the Clippers held on to win their second game of the series by a single point. Chris Paul has been magnificent running the Clippers and a heroic effort from Caron Butler, returning from a broken hand in game 1, may have save the Clippers first post-season experience since 2006. The Clippers feel confident that they have the series under their control now after forcing the Grizzlies into two fourth quarter collapses. How they handle that confidence could determine their fate in this series.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul was the only Clippers starter to have a positive +/- ratio in Game 3. That alone should tell you how valuable he is to the Clipper team. His 11 assists helped offset a rather poor shooting performance for Paul (8-19). More importantly Paul seems to have the will to defeat opponents in the playoffs. That will appeared to be lacking in Conley as he turned down an open lane to the basket in the closing seconds choosing instead to force a pass to Rudy Gay despite being covered. Conley must understand that while he’s no Chris Paul, he’s no slouch either. Conley is averaging 15.0 PPG and 7.3 APG, both above his season averages, and is the only player capable of handling the Clipper’s pressure defense. Conley has not been as aggressive stealing the ball in the playoffs but that has more to do with Paul’s control of the ball than lack of effort on Conley’s part.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Shooting Guards: Tony Allen vs Randy Foye
Tony Allen didn’t play in the 4th quarter of Game 3 and played only 18 minutes in the game. When the Grizzlies best perimeter defender has been in the game at least half the time the Grizzlies have won. When he’s played 22 or fewer minutes the team has lost. The Grizzlies need Allen’s defense to control the Clippers perimeter defense and to create turnovers. Allen had his knee checked out before Game 2 by team doctors. Randy Foye broke out of his series long shooting slump with 16 points including 4 of 5 from the arc in Game 3. When Foye is able to score it opens up opportunities for the Clippers inside. If Allen is healthy then one has to wonder why he didn’t play more minutes.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Caron Butler
Caron Butler surprised just about everyone by starting Game 3. While ineffective scoring the ball with a broken left hand, Butler’s defense was exceptional on Rudy Gay and helped keep Gay from taking control of the game the way he did in Game 2. Gay is averaging 21.3 PPG on 47.8% from the field and his two big 3 point shots in the closing seconds nearly pulled out a Grizzlies win. However, Gay also is averaging 3.3 TOPG which is too high. The Grizzlies turn to Gay when they need a clutch basket but Rudy has failed to deliver twice at the end of games in this series. Butler will need to continue to play hard-nosed defense while just doing enough offensively to prevent Gay from completely ignoring him on offense. Gay will need to continue to regain his clutch end of game shooting touch to lead Memphis to victory.
Power Forwards: Zach Randolph vs Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph are waging their own private war in this series. The pounding from both sides has led to tempers flaring. Randolph is clearly not the player he was in last season’s playoffs averaging 12.7 PPG on only 40.0% FG shooting. His rebounding is down as well. Much of that can be attributed to Griffin’s aggressiveness. Griffin is averaging 18.7 PPG and 6.3 ROG which are both below his season averages and if not for some excellent passing from Chris Paul those numbers would be much worse. Griffin has given up on jump shots preferring to use his athleticism down low to power to the rim at every opportunity. The Grizzlies need to continue to make him work hard for every basket and not allow him any dunks to excite the crowd.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Centers: Marc Gasol vs DeAndre Jordan
Marc Gasol is not having a great series. The first time all-star has all but disappeared in the 4th quarter scoring only 2 points total in the 4th quarter during the series. Despite his poor individual performance the team has responded to his presence on the court. His +18 in Game 3 was a team high. Gasol needs to continue to be a force to the end of the game for the Grizzlies to have a chance in the series. DeAndre Jordan has had a few nice dunks and a few impressive blocks but otherwise has been a non-factor. Reggie Evans has replaced Jordan at the end of games. Jordan is young and inexperienced but he needs to make a larger impact in the game. He was practically invisible in Game 3 with no points and only 3 rebounds. Gasol was seen shouting that Jordan couldn’t handle him in the 4th quarter of Game 3 which apparently Coach Del Negro heard as he was immediately taken out of the game.
Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles
My counterpart, Red Coleman, stated before Game 3 he felt the Grizzlies bench was doing a better job than the Clippers. I disagree. While the Clippers bench does have more one-dimensional players their defensive intensity over all has directly led to both Clipper victories. Eric Bledsoe has harassed O J Mayo into repeated turnovers, Nick Young has hit clutch shots but it has been the duo of Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans down low that has made the biggest impact on the series. Mo Speights, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have disappeared in the fourth quarters and the defensive intensity has increased. Evans has been especially effective, disrupting the Grizzlies offense by any means he has available and his crucial offensive rebounds off missed free throws won the game for the Clippers in Game 3. No Grizzlies bench player has a positive +/- ratio in the series and O J Mayo had a particularly bad game in Game 3. Mayo has struggled on the road all season and needs to have a big game for the Grizzlies to win tonight.
Advantage: Los Angeles