MEMPHIS-Now comes the really hard part.
The Clippers, who lead the series 3-1, are one win away from advancing past the Memphis Grizzlies into the second round of the Western Conference playoffs for the second time in team history. But considering the way the first four games have transpired, they know heading into Game 5 Wednesday, they can't take anything for granted.
"Obviously, the close-out game is difficult, but we'll go there and always have the right mindset that we're looking to move on," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We're going to have to do a good job of handling the intensity of the game, the physicality is going to be at a high, which is great, and we'll have to be ready for it. If we go in there just thinking we're going to play a normal game, then we're going to be in trouble."
The Clippers have three wins in the series by a combined six points, including Monday's 101-97 overtime victory at Staples Center. On Wednesday the series shifts back to Memphis where the Clippers overcame a relentless opposing crowd to pull off a stunning rally in Game 1. The Grizzlies bounced back for a seven-point win in Game 2 and have won two out the last three times the teams have met at FedEx Forum, including the regular season.
"We have to treat it like it's the last game," Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said. "It can be the last game for us, so we have to give it everything we've got regardless if guys are happy [or] if guys are not."
Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins elaborated on Conley's inference that the Grizzlies have to play Wednesday with a sense of desperation.
"They're up 3-1. They have another game at home," Hollins said. "We haven't won out there. So they do have a huge advantage, but that doesn't mean that the series is over. It means that we to go fight, and I expect us to keep fighting. It's been a tough, tough series. I said it was going to be interesting. We're going forward and we still have a lot of basketball left."
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 101, Grizzlies 97, OT (Clippers lead series, 3-1): In another slug fest, the teams exchanged coughing up leads of at least eight points as the Clippers got 30 points and seven assists from Blake Griffin and 27 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists from Chris Paul, who scored eight of the team's 14 points in overtime. Griffin fouled out, the Clippers were outrebounded for the third time in four games, and they failed to shoot better than 47% from the field for the first time in the series.
"It was a fight today," Del Negro said. "There's no question about it. Very physical game, both teams were going at it. They gave us problems with their offensive rebounds again, but we were able to do a better job at the free throw line and make some plays down the stretch."
Still, they managed a series-low 12 turnovers, got timely 3-pointers from Nick Young and Mo Williams and had the best two players on the court. Griffin, whose 30 points was a series high, fouled out with 2:26 left in overtime, but Paul scored three consecutive baskets down the stretch and Williams made two free throws to put the game away in the final 10 seconds. Rudy Gay had 23 points for Memphis on 8-for-25 shooting and Conley added 25 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds in the loss. GAME RECAP
-Physicality and rebounding. As the series has progressed the testiness between the two teams has seemingly increased as well. Thirteen technical fouls have been called in four games, including five in Game 4. Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and Mareesse Speights each have two.
"[Games 1 through 4] were definitely some gutsy games, some real bite-and-claw games," Tony Allen, who is averaging 23 minutes per game in the series, said. "In order to be a great team, you have to take advantage of opportunities and capitalize when you have the moment. You have to take your hat off and give them the credit because they are pretty much man-handling this series right now and they're up 3-1."
While it's clear the Clippers have been the aggressors in the last two games when it comes to physical play, the Grizzlies continue to win the battle of the boards. They had a 47-36 rebounding edge in Game 4 with 19 on the offensive glass. Overall, the Clippers are averaging 36.5 rebounds in the series, while Memphis has pulled down 41.25.
-Fouls. The series is becoming increasingly more difficult to officiate. Game 4 took more than three hours, in part, because the team's were whistled for 60 combined fouls (Memphis committed 34, while the Clippers had 26, including six on Griffin). The previous game had 53 fouls called.
Moving ahead in the series it would be reasonable to expect foul trouble to be a major deciding factor. Hollins was forced to use a front court of Dante Cunningham and Hamed Haddadi in Game 4 as Zach Randolph, Speights and Gasol were sidelined with fouls. Likewise, Del Negro has been forced to juggle his lineup as well, particularly when Jordan and Griffin have earned two fouls in the early stages of games.
-Marc Gasol is missing in action. Where has the Grizzlies lone All-Star gone? In 36 minutes Monday, he had just one field goal on four shots and grabbed five rebounds. He's scored just 31 points since putting in 10 points in the opening quarter of Game 1. (Gasol averaged 14.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in the regular season).
He appeared frustrated by Evans and Jordan during the two games in L.A. and has been passive on offense in general. When Gasol has it going, it forces the defense to deal with a two-headed monster in the post. As mentioned in our series preview (click here), the Grizzlies, with Randolph and Gasol, are one of the best high-low teams in the NBA, something that's been nullified for the most part this series.
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MATCHUP TO WATCH
Reggie Evans vs. Zach Randolph
While Griffin will be the predominant matchup early on Randolph, it's likely that Reggie Evans will continue to guard him late. Evans has played an integral part in disrupting Randolph's rhythm in the series. He has subdued Randolph's rebounding ability, routinely causes mischief, and unafraid to body Randolph, saying he doesn't mind getting "hammered" because he "likes to hammer back."
In 50 minutes when Randolph and Evans are on the court at the same time, Randolph is shooting 23% (3-for-13) with Evans averaging 11.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, compared to 5.3 for Randolph.
MORE ON CLOSING OUT AN OPPONENT
Randy Foye: "We have to take it one game at a time and understand that if we go down there and we play our game and play together, we're going to have a great chance to close them out."
Vinny Del Negro: "We can't just rely on [having] home court in Game 6. We have to go in there with the right mentality in Game 5 and I'm sure our veteran guys who have been through it with help with that."
Reggie Evans: "Just focus in for the whole 48 minutes and do the little things, like boxing out, helping guards out, and stuff like that, and turning the ball over less like we did against them in the regular season. That's the way we've got to play for 48 minutes and find a way to get a win instead of just holding your breath and hoping that we get a stop at the end.
"They're still going to bring it. They've got no quit in them."
Chris Paul: "I was telling them about the close-out games. They're the toughest ones, especially in their place. I'm sure they're excited to be going back home and we've shown the ability to win there, so we need to come out ready to play. It's going to be a different there, obviously, with the crowd behind them. We got down early [in Game 4] and our crowd's energy got us back into it. It's not going to be that way when we go on the road."
Only three players on the Clippers had an assist in Game 4. Williams had four, while Griffin and Paul had seven apiece...Griffin has been incredible in the paint. He's 28-for-39 from inside 5 feet with 24 of those field goals coming on dunks (12) or layups (12). Outside of 5 feet, Griffin is 5-for-19.
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