GAME 1 COULD BE A PHYSICAL GRIND
MEMPHIS–There’s a massive yellow sign on the parking structure adjacent to FedEx Forum with a picture of Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol. “Grind Forth” is the catchphrase stamped on it in bold letters, playing off the arena’s “Grind House” nickname.
As Game 1 of the 2012 looms Sunday between the Clippers and Grizzlies, calling the series a “grind” might be an understatement. Fistfight might work better.
The Grizzlies are well known for their scrappiness. Several Clippers players after practice the last two days said Memphis’ goal is to “muck the game up,” meaning intentionally make things sloppier. It’s contrary to what Chris Paul and the Clippers want to do. They’ve turned the ball over 13.3 times per game, the second fewest in the regular season. The offense is predicated on Paul probing in the half-court, seeking the slightest crack in the defense, and taking advantage.
However, if the game becomes a physical battle inside, the Clippers are prepared to take it on.
Related: Grizzlies Shoot-Around Report
“I don’t know how much more you can bump or hit Blake [Griffin] as much as teams are right now,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’ll keep our composure. We’ll keep our poise. We know that it’s like that and we’ll do the same. We’re a physical team and we have physical guys, so I don’t think that will be an issue with us.”
“We have plenty of guys and size and physicality,” Del Negro added. “We’ve got to make plays. You can only be so physical, you have to execute. There are referees out there for a reason.”
PAUL READY TO PLAY
Despite participating in a limited capacity the previous two days with a mild left groin strain, Chris Paul said Sunday that he’s ready to play.
“I will be ready to play tonight. I mean, we walk in here and see all the t-shirts and stuff like that. It didn’t look like that in the regular season,” said Paul, referring to the white t-shirts and yellow towels draped over each seat in FedEx Forum. “I think it’s one of those things. It’s exciting. I’m ready to play.”
It’s still a question of how much Paul will play. Del Negro suggested the team will remain cautious, considering it’s the first game of what is expected to be a long series.
“He’ll play, but he will be limited a little bit just to see how he feels,” Del Negro said. “He hasn’t really got out there for a while. We’ll monitor it and we want to be smart about it. You’ve got to win four games. You’re not going to win the series in one game.”
When Paul was told his coach might limit his minutes, he smiled before saying, “He better not. He better not. We’ll see, but I’m ready to go that’s what I’m focused on.”
Rudy Gay said with Paul in the lineup the number one factor will be stopping the Clippers star from getting in the lane.
“[You have to] cut down on their penetration,” Gay said. “Obviously, when Chris penetrates he makes the team better, so we have to just cut down on it.”
If Paul forces the defense to collapse it opens up shooters like Caron Butler on the baseline and Randy Foye, who has made 43 of his 97 3-point shots in the month of April (44.3%), at the wing. Additionally, when the Clippers team Mo Williams and/or Nick Young on the perimeter, it gives Paul options aplenty to stretch the defense.
GRIFFIN’S FIRST PLAYOFF GAME
With his first playoff game a few hours away, Blake Griffin sounded eager to take the court.
“I’m very excited,” Griffin said. “This obviously being kind of a rarity for the Clippers and this being my first time and a lot of other guys’ first time, we’re very excited. But we’re about business and ready to get going.”
Teammates like Kenyon Martin (89 playoff games) have been telling him what to expect. But to some degree for Griffin, Foye, DeAndre Jordan, and Eric Bledsoe, all key players making their postseason debuts Sunday, they can only hear so much without actually going through it.
“Especially being on the road, the way the other team is going to feed off the crowd and the way the refs are going to call the game, more physical and all that,” Griffin said. “It will be different, but I’m kind of looking forward to experiencing it myself and to kind of get that feel.”
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