MEMPHIS–Despite having two days off between games, a rarity during the condensed regular season schedule, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the rest of the Clippers asserted they immediately moved on to Game 2.
“I’ve never been a part of a game like that [Game 1],” Griffin said the morning after the Clippers’ 99-98 win over the Grizzlies. “It was great to feel that way, but right now the work starts. We’ve got to kind of forget about it and move on.”
The second game of their best of seven series tips off Wednesday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis with the fifth seeded Clippers attempting to go back to Los Angeles two wins shy of advancing. After the Clippers’ remarkable comeback three days ago, though, there are still a number of unanswered questions; somewhat of a bundle of ‘what ifs.’
What if Marc Gasol dominates the entirety of a game the way he did through the first quarter of Game 1? What if Memphis’ defense continues to corral Paul and Griffin the way they did in the first half? What if the Grizzlies continue to hit from outside? What if the Clippers don’t? What if Memphis can’t recover from the way Sunday’s game closed? And perhaps the biggest question: what if the Clippers start the game like they did Sunday?
“I think we’ll be ready, give Memphis some credit, too, they hit some tough shots,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Every game’s going to be a little different, we’ll have to make our adjustments and stick together the way we did in the second half [Sunday].”
As Game 2 approaches, the Clippers, who overcame a season-ending injury to Chauncey Billups (torn left Achilles tendon) in February, will be forced to adjust to the loss of forward Caron Butler for 4-6 weeks with a fractured left hand. Butler sustained the injury during the third quarter of Game 1 and is likely to be replaced in the lineup by Nick Young. Forward Bobby Simmons, who did not play in Game 1, should play a few minutes in reserve.
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“I hate to see Caron have to go down like that, but he’ll still be with us and I know guys will step up,” Griffin said Tuesday. “[Young’s] plenty capable of stepping up and scoring and providing us with what we need.”
The Grizzlies are expected to once again start former Clipper Zach Randolph at power forward. Randolph had just six points in Sunday’s game and has started just two previous times since March 16. The Grizzlies went 37-17 with Mareesse Speights in the starting lineup.
They have not lost two straight games since dropping five of six in mid-March.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 99, Grizzlies 98 (Clippers lead series, 1-0): It will go into the annals as matching the largest deficit (21) overcome to start a fourth quarter in NBA playoff history. It was a comeback for the ages, with L.A. winning despite trailing by 24 points with 7:55 remaining. Nick Young scored a team-high 19 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers during the Clippers’ 28-3 run to close the game. Paul had 14 points and 11 assists (seven in the fourth quarter), Griffin scored 17 points with seven rebounds in playoff debut, and Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans (13 rebounds) and Eric Bledsoe all played integral roles down the stretch. Paul’s free throws put the Clippers ahead by one and Martin stifled Rudy Gay’s 15-footer, which banged off the front of the rim with 0.9 seconds to go.
For 40 minutes the Grizzlies appeared headed to a blowout victory. They were aggressive, scoring at will, and thriving off a spirited and vibrant sellout crowd. Mike Conley made all five of his 3-pointers and assisted on five more. Center Marc Gasol was a handful as a passer and a scorer, finishing with 14 points and six assists, and Rudy Gay, with a team-high 19 points, was one of four Grizzlies who scored in double-figures. But it all fell apart in the final quarter. Memphis managed just 13 points and were 5-of-19 from the field during the Clippers onslaught. FULL RECAP
REVISITING THE SCOUTING REPORT
Round One Scouting Report (prior to Game 1):
Prior to the start of the series, Clippers.com talked with a Western Conference front office executive and an advance scout from an opposing team to get a read on the Clippers’ matchup with the Grizzlies. Here are a few key sections of the scouting report with notes on how they played out in Game 1.
The Clippers and Grizzlies are two of the deepest teams in the West: The Clippers bench provided a tremendous lift on Sunday. Evans, Bledsoe, Young, Mo Williams, and Kenyon Martin all played significant roles in the comeback, including accounting for 23 of the team’s 35 points in the fourth quarter and hauling in 12 of their 17 rebounds.
On Tuesday starting center DeAndre Jordan said, “The second unit definitely saved us, but that’s why it’s called a team.”
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While the Clippers bench accounted for nearly 50% of the team’s scoring (48 of their 99 points), Memphis’ second unit also showed why the scout was impressed by their depth. Led by O.J. Mayo’s 17 points, the Grizzlies reserves finished with 36 points on the night, six points higher than their season average.
Mayo has tendency to be streaky. You just have to hope that he doesn’t have it going too much: The 6-foot-4 combo guard was not just streaky from one game to the next, but from various spots on the floor. He made four of his six 3-pointers, but missed all but one of his shots from inside the arc. He also committed four turnovers and missed two free throws.
Chris Paul has to handle the ball without making mistakes: From a decision-making standpoint, Paul was at his most alluring during the comeback. However, in the early going it looked like he was struggling to get in rhythm after being limited by a mild left groin strain for the better part of four days. He had just one point in the first half, committed two turnovers, picked up two first-quarter fouls, and a technical foul in the third.
Still, down the stretch he put constant pressure on the defense, finding hot shooters like Young and making the best available play, none more apparent than when he dumped a pass off to Evans for a layup to give the Clippers their first lead at 97-96.
Prior to Game 1, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said one of his team’s keys was to limit Paul’s ability to create easy baskets in transition. It will again be a factor in Game 2.
Getting to the free-throw line will be hugely important, but Jordan and Griffin have to shoot a better percentage: In an almost surreal twist, free throws, the thing most naysayers opined would kill the Clippers’ hopes of advancing in the postseason, won Game 1. Griffin made the two biggest freebies of his life to cut Memphis’ lead to one and also finished off an and-one layup with a converted free throw in the third quarter. Overall, Griffin and Jordan went 4-for-6 from the line (66.7%) after completing the regular season shooting a combined 52.3%.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Chris Paul vs. Mike Conley
Conley, who went for 17 points with eight assists and five rebounds, arguably outplayed Paul over the first three quarters Sunday, but as the fourth quarter wore on, Paul seemed to get his sea legs. He made shots in the lane and had seven of his 11 assists in the final period. In Game 2, you could expect things to regress to the mean a little more. Conley will almost certainly make fewer threes, but he’ll also likely nab a couple of steals after going without one in 39 minutes Sunday. Likewise, Paul should have a better shooting night (he was 5-for-12 in Game 1).
In all, the matchup will be about defense. Paul and Conley finished first and second, respectively, in steals during the regular season. According to Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, his speedy point guard will continue to guard Paul, as opposed to the bigger Tony Allen.
Paul leads the NBA with 10 game-winning shots since 2007… On Sunday, Evans became the third player in the last 11 years to grab 13 or more rebounds in fewer than 21 minutes… The Clippers are 12-11 in games decided by five or points or less… Sunday was the sixth time this season the Clippers have come back to win after trailing through three quarters… The Grizzlies entered the playoffs with a six-game winning streak. They compiled their best winning percentage (.621) in franchise history during the regular season.
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