CLIPPERS ALL TOO FAMILIAR WITH WHAT AWAITS IN GAME 3
The Clippers are bound for Memphis, a place they have come to know well in the last 15 months.
After a film session and near hour long workout Wednesday morning, the team, leading its best-of-seven first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies 2-0, boarded a charter jet for the Blues City intent on matching the Grizzlies’ desperation heading into Game 3.
“We know those guys are hungry for a win and we are, too,” point guard Chris Paul said. “I think [Memphis will play desperate], but we’re desperate, too. We understand that this game has to be just as important to us as it is to them. And it is.”
It’s a position not entirely unfamiliar to the Clippers. FedEx Forum has become something of a second home, and the music echoing off the buildings on Beale Street from Blues City Café, a soundtrack. By the time their two games in Memphis wrap up this weekend, they will have played 18 games against the Grizzlies since Jan. 26, 2012, including six postseason road games.
Blake Griffin, who is one of five players on the Clippers’ roster to appear in last season’s first-round series with Memphis, knows full well what the atmosphere on the road will be like.
“The regular season is the regular season. We have to step it up a notch,” Griffin said Wednesday. “Their crowd isn’t quite the same in the regular season as it is in the playoffs. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be a great environment. It’s going to be fun to play in.
“I think as a team we love playing in an arena like that when the energy’s great and everybody’s yelling and it feels like it’s just us in there. I think we really feed off each other and I think we kind of embrace that situation.”
The Clippers have won three in row in Memphis, including a 91-87 victory on Apr. 13 that helped ensure they would capture home court advantage in round one.
Through two games, the series has not only been physically demanding, but aside from the fourth quarter of Game 1 when the Clippers unleashed a 37-22 whirlwind, it’s been exceedingly competitive. It took a daunting one-handed runner by Paul with one-tenth of a second left to escape a Grizzlies comeback in Game 2.
Asked what pitfalls a team up 2-0 may need to be aware of heading on the road for Games 3 and 4, Paul said, “Probably, being complacent, but that’s something our team doesn’t have to worry about. We have enough veteran leadership to know how important these games are.”
One of those veterans is Billups, who has played in 142 career postseason games, sixth among active players.
“We’ve talked about guarding against a letdown,” Billups said. “We know they’re going to come out with their backs against the wall in Game 3 and I think early in the game try to make a statement. I think we’ve got to be ready to not only take their best punch, but we’ve got to be ready to deliver the blow first.”
IMPROVING FOURTH-QUARTER EXECUTION
One of the things Griffin, Paul and Billups all talked about after Wednesday’s practice was improving the way the team performed down the stretch in Game 2.
They led by 12 points early in the period and as many as nine with 6:53 to go only to allow Memphis to ultimately tie the game on a Darrell Arthur three-point play.
“I think down the stretch we did a poor job of staying in attack mode,” Griffin said. “I felt like we tried to maintain the lead instead of extend it and we can’t do that, especially against a team like them. They’re going to make plays and they played well down the stretch, but we have to stay in that mind state of attacking.”
The Clippers had five consecutive empty possessions during the Grizzlies comeback attempt, including taking three shots with seven seconds or more remaining on the shot clock and missing a pair of free throws. According to Billups, protecting the lead means being aggressive but also smarter.
“We have to be better with leads, especially in the fourth quarter,” he said. “That’s just turning the ball over and taking bad shots. A bad shot in the fourth quarter with a lead is basically like a turnover. So, we’ve got to be a little more in tune with just trying to get good looks and protecting the lead.”
Paul agreed with his veteran backcourt mate, suggesting that the Clippers would not likely have been able to get away with the same thing had it happened on the road.
“We’ve got to understand that if that situation happens and we’re on the road it’s going to be tough,” Paul said. “We had the crowd motivating us and understanding what it meant to go up 2-0 and stuff like that. On the road, if you get a 10-point lead, you’ve got to increase it because once you let the crowd get into it and playing in that environment it’s going to be tough.”