Who: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers
When: May 11, 2012 – 8:00 PM (CST)
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Series: Memphis (2-3), Los Angeles (3-2)
Memphis faces their second must win game of the playoffs and their first such game on the road in franchise history. In fact the Grizzlies have won just two elimination games in franchise history, Game 6 at home against Oklahoma City last year and Game 5 at home against the Clippers Wednesday night. The Grizzlies opened up Game 5 in a similar fashion to the first game of the series, taking a 15 point halftime lead on the back of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph only this time managed to hold onto the lead when the Clippers made their fourth quarter run. The Grizzlies have not won on the road against the Clippers all season. Their 0-4 mark includes two disappointing efforts in the regular season and two nail-biting losses in the playoffs. A win would force the first ever Game 7 at the FedEx Forum.
Los Angeles has the confidence on high heading into this game. Despite losing by 12 points in Game 5 the Clippers believe that injuries cost the Clippers the win. The Clippers had fought back from being down over 20 points to close it to 6 points with under 2 minutes to play but Blake Griffin (knee) and Chris Paul (hip/groin) couldn’t answer the bell for a final push and Memphis closed out the game. Both Griffin and Paul are going to play Friday night and are not expected to be too bothered by their injuries. Paul and Griffin aren’t the only Clipper players dealing with injuries as Caron Butler (broken left hand) is also struggling through pain. Eric Bledsoe was benched in Game 5 for losing his composure but has been a difference maker in earlier games with his defense. Mo Williams, Nick Young, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin have all played well in reserve roles and will likely be counted on for a few more minutes in this game if Griffin and Paul.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul looked to aggravate his groin injury in Game 5 although the Clippers are calling it a hip pointer. Whatever it is/was, it had a big impact on Paul’s play down the stretch as did his jammed finger in the first half. When Paul struggles so does the Clipper half-court offense and transition game. When able to overcome the pain Paul has been unstoppable averaging 22.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 7.8 APG hitting 46.9% of his FG attempts and 38.9% of his 3 pt attempts. Mike Conley has been good averaging 15.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 7.2 APG on 48.1% from the floor and 53.3% from the arc. Good is nice but he needs to be great to give the Grizzlies a chance in this game regardless of Paul being 100% or not.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Shooting Guards: Tony Allen vs Randy Foye
The Clippers have been let down by Randy Foye so far in the playoffs but if there is one player on their team that can change the course of this game outside of the big 2 it is Foye. His 40% shooting from beyond the arc can attest to that. However Foye has struggled to get enough shots up to make an impact. He’s only reached double figures twice so far and has an equal number of games where he only scored 3 points. Tony Allen has not been as effective in this series as Memphis had hoped as the Clippers routinely take advantage of his over-playing on defense. Allen isn’t expected to make a big impact on the offensive end but his inability to hit lay-ups has cost the Grizzlies. Allen, when hitting his shots, is capable of giving the Grizzlies a big lift on both ends of the court, especially on back door cuts but he has to finish the shot to be effective.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Caron Butler
Caron Butler continues to make a major impact on the series despite his broken non-shooting hand. His FG% doesn’t tell the whole story. Butler, who was coached by the same college coach as Rudy Gay, has made life miserable for the Grizzlies highest paid player. Gay is averaging over 20 points a game in the series but he’s only hitting 42.4% of his FG attempts and a miserable 25% from the arc. Gay has been vilified as the reason the Grizzlies are in a must win situation tonight as well. Rudy, normally a very effective last shot scorer but has come up empty in game winning situations this series missing two shots at the buzzer. In Game 5 he seemed to be very down on his play but a huge offensive rebound off a missed FT and scoring the basket that basically ended any hope for a Clipper comeback may have him back to being the Grizzlies go-to scorer.
Power Forwards: Zach Randolph vs Blake Griffin
We’ve said all series that this match-up was a war and it has been everything people expected. Griffin has had the upper hand in scoring averaging 20.2 PPG but Randolph has been the more effective rebounder. Both players are recovering from knee issues that have affected their games but not their attitudes. Griffin’s knee injury isn’t thought to be serious but any time a player has issues with their knee it can’t be good and Griffin relies on his jumping ability far more than Randolph does. Randolph is clearly not the player he was in the playoffs last year but he has shown glimpses at times. If Griffin can’t elevate in his usual manner that is a big loss for the Clippers since he has yet to score outside of the paint in the series. No one expects his injury to be severe enough to alter that part of his game.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Centers: Marc Gasol vs DeAndre Jordan
Marc Gasol finally played large against the Clippers in Game 5 with 23 points and 7 rebounds as well. However the dominant impact of his game came in the first half (18 points). By the end of the game he all but disappeared. Memphis will need a complete game from Gasol to pull off the road win. DeAndre Jordan has lost his role in the 4th quarter as Del Negro prefers Martin and Evans to Jordan down the stretch. Jordan is averaging just 3.6 PPG and 4.4 RPG in the series and his main asset, defense shot blocking, has been negated somewhat by Memphis’ interior strength. Jordan has seen his minutes decline from 26 in Game 1 to just 19 in Game 5 and unless he finds a way to stop Gasol from scoring they may go down even more Tonight. Jordan struggles both from the line and outside the paint offensively making him a liability late in games.
Benches: Memphis vs Los Angeles
The disappearance of O J Mayo and to a lesser extent Mo Speights in both troubling and confusing for Grizzlies fans. The bench was considered a Memphis strength heading into the series but it has been the Clippers bench that has doled out the most punishment. Mayo and Speights are both restricted free agents this summer and don’t want the last impression of them to be this series. Quincy Pondexter has stepped up his game, especially defensively, from the regular season and has even taken over defending Chris Paul at times. His 71.4% FG shooting isn’t going to continue but he rarely is expected to take anything but wide-open shots so there is no reason to worry if he doesn’t continue at this pace. The Clippers will welcome back Eric Bledsoe from the doghouse in Game 6. Bledsoe has made youthful mistakes but his defense has been game changing. Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin have also provided intense defense and have taken the Grizzlies interior game to pieces in the 2nd half. Nick Young has cooled off but is always capable of adding instant offense. The key will be Mo Williams. If he is on his game, even with Paul dragging, he gives the Clippers too much off the bench for the Grizzlies to compensate.
Advantage: Los Angeles