ERIC PATTEN @ericpatten | 5/6/12

Prior to Saturday afternoon’s 87-86 victory in Game 3, Blake Griffin challenged himself more than anyone to match the Grizzlies’ physical play.

Aside from the first half of Game 1, when he scored just two points in 14 minutes, Griffin had played well in the first two games. With averages of 19.5 points and 8.0 rebounds, his numbers weren’t too far off what he’d done in the regular season. Still, there was a sense he could do more.

And while his statistics from Game 3 (17 points and four rebounds) don’t show it, he set the tone in terms of making himself a presence on both ends of the floor.

“Our plan was to be aggressive from the beginning of the game,” Griffin said. “We ended up doing a good job of that early, let our guard down here and there, but overall ended up doing a good job of being the more aggressive team.”

According to Rudy Gay, who led the Grizzlies with 24 points Saturday, Griffin and his teammates beat Memphis at their own game.

“Well we’re supposed to be the physical team,” Gay said after the game. “They took that away from us today. They pushed us. They did all the things that we usually do to teams.”

While Gay’s comment certainly included Chris Paul, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin, among other Clippers, it started with Griffin. He slammed into burly forward Zach Randolph in the post, bodied him under the rim, wrestled for position on the way down the court, and on one occasion earned a technical foul for swatting Randolph’s arm after getting elbowed.

But it wasn’t merely a chess match between brute strength and athleticism, Griffin also made quicker, more decisive moves with the ball than he did in Games 1 and 2, avoiding letting the defense swarm him in the paint. It was the third postseason game of Griffin’s career and it already seemed like he’d figured some things out.

He scored the first six points of Game 3 for the Clippers, spinning into the lane for a layup and knocking down a twisting hook shot for a basket and a foul on Tony Allen, who was digging for a steal off of his man, Randy Foye.

“Blake is a physical player and he’s going to attack the rim,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He is a hard player to officiate but I love his aggressiveness and when he faces up and attacks off the dribble he is dangerous.”

Through three games in the series, Griffin’s high-flying act has been reduced somewhat to a grind in the paint. Memphis has a massive frontline in terms of strength and an athletic group of wings that grab and pull and are capable of aggressively double-teaming and quickly recovering to shooters.

Sunday, though, Griffin’s aerial game came into play. He caught two lobs, threw down a clutch slam off a sublime bounce pass from Paul to put L.A. up four late in the fourth, and made a sensational steal for another dunk at the end of the first half.

After the Clippers secured a six-point lead on a layup by Randy Foye with 1:38 to go, the Grizzlies countered in what felt like a matter of seconds to even the score. Paul made two free throws with 2.3 seconds left to briefly restore order in what had been a somewhat topsy-turvy 24 minutes.

Following Paul’s second free throw, Mareesse Speights threw a football style pass up court to O.J. Mayo, who had his back turned. Griffin tapped it away, recovered, and dunked with one hand around Speights as the buzzer sounded.


Caron Butler practiced Sunday and is expected to start Game 4.

“He just got up a bunch of shots,” Del Negro said after practice. “And he didn’t have any setbacks which is good.”

Butler missed the second game of the series with a fractured fifth metacarpal in his left hand, an injury originally expected to cost him 4-6 weeks. But he returned to the lineup Saturday, playing just over 22 minutes at small forward.

Following Saturday’s Game 3, Griffin and Del Negro both indicated Butler’s return gave the team an emotional boost. However, it also had a strategic impact as well.

After practice swingman Nick Young said, “We need Caron out there. He’s a big guard. He’s been in the league for a little while, he’s been around. And that’s somebody that gives Rudy Gay a little problem out there, a big guy like that.”

Gay’s 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame at times has been a physical mismatch for Young, who gives up an inch and 20 pounds. Butler (6-foot-7, 228 pounds) provides bigger body to matchup defensively and theoretically frees up Young to do more damage on the offensive end.


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