MEMPHIS–If nothing else emerged from Game 2 of the Clippers-Grizzlies series, it’s that Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins can attempt to form an assembly line of defenders against superstar Chris Paul and it will matter little when it comes to stopping him.
Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Quincy Pondexter, and Tony Alllen, all vastly diverse defenders, were all tasked as the primary man-to-man option on the Clippers’ point guard Wednesday and it was clear that when Paul wants to score it doesn’t matter who’s hounding him.
“Chris Paul’s a great player,” Hollins said following the Grizzlies’ 105-98 victory. “We had three or four different people on him and he scored on everybody, so who do you want me to put on him? I can’t come off the bench and guard him. I’m too old.”
Paul was masterful at times as a scorer, using screens to free himself from the overzealous hounding of Allen or his body to diminish the quickness of Conley. He had a game-high 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He barely missed through some stretches, including canning 8-of-11 shots at one point. He converted a 4-point play after being fouled a three from the right corner. And he dished six assists and recorded five steals.
Still, as the game devolved into part bump-fest and part rugby scrum, the Grizzlies started forcing turnovers in bunches. Paul committed five turnovers. Entering the night he’d only had five five-turnover games this season. His career high in the playoffs is six turnovers, which occurred twice in 2008-09 when he was a member of the Hornets.
“That [not protecting the ball] was a huge difference, and it’s my fault,” Paul said. “I turned the ball over way too much. I’ve got to figure out how to get them off of me. Some of them were just bad passes and stuff like that, but when you’re getting in the lane and it’s the playoffs they’re going to let you play and they’re going to let them grab and hold and stuff like that. So I’ve got to do a better job and figure out how to get them off of me.”
Paul was 6-for-8 in the first half for 16 points with three assists and three steal. He also knocked down both of his 3-pointers, a shot from the right wing with Rudy Gay contesting and another one from the opposite wing after dribbling Marc Gasol and Mayo in circles.
His first basket of the second half with 5:53 left in the third came over Allen to pull the Clippers to within five. On the next possession he blew past Allen for a layup.
And despite his fewest assists in the playoffs in nine games, Paul still pulled off some wondrous dishes to his teammates. He found Jordan for an alley oop dunk on the opening offensive possession of the game and again in the third quarter when he lofted the ball above Gasol and Allen and allowed Jordan to throw it down over both Grizzlies defenders.
But highlights matter none to Paul, who insisted after the game that the Clippers felt like they let a chance to take control of the series slip away.
“We played better, but it’s no moral victories around here,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s 1-1. We did what we were supposed to do, yeah win one game, but I felt like we could have got two. Now we’ve got to go back and take care of two [at home].”
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