Clippers Vs. Grizzlies - Playoffs Round 1, Game 5 - Game Preview

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 07: Chris Paul #3 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers celebrate during the overtime period against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers won 101-97 in overtime to take a three games to one lead in the series. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
2011/2012 NBA Playoffs - Round 1 - Game 5
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40-26

41-25
Clippers lead series 3-1
Game 1 - April 29th in Memphis - Clippers 99, Grizzlies 98
Game 2 - May 2nd in Memphis - Grizzlies 105, Clippers 98
Game 3 - May 5th in Los Angeles - Clippers 87, Grizzlies 86
Game 4 - May 7th in Los Angeles - Clippers 101, Grizzlies 97 (OT)
Game 5 - May 9th, 2012, 6:30, Memphis, FedEx Forum
Game 6 - May 11th, 2012, TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center *
Game 7 - May 13th, 2012, TBD, Memphis, FedEx Forum *
* if necessary
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Mike Conley
Randy Foye SG Tony Allen
Caron Butler
SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin
PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan
C Marc Gasol
Key reserves:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Gilbert Arenas
Mo Williams SG O.J. Mayo
Nick Young
SF Quincy Pondexter
Reggie Evans
PF Dante Cunningham
Kenyon Martin
C Marreese Speights

The Regular Season Story:

The Big Picture:

This series started on an impossibly high note with the Clippers unbelievable comeback in Game 1, and it has just stayed there. The most amazing thing may be the fact that, so far at least, the trailing team has always comeback to make a game the close, even when one team seems to be taking control. Obviously, there was Game 1 in which the Clippers overcame a 24 point deficit in the final eight minutes with a closing 26-3 28-3 run. In Game 2, which in retrospect was the least competitive, the Grizzlies had a 13 point lead with about 4 minutes left, and the Clippers used a 14-6 run to cut the lead to 5 before falling short in their comeback. In Game 3, the Clippers used a late 13-1 run to turn a 6 point deficit into a 6 point advantage with 23 seconds left, and then the Grizzlies fought back with a 6-1 run of their own and had a chance to win it at the buzzer. With nowhere left to go, Game 4 had to go to overtime, as the Grizzlies erased a 10 point fourth quarter deficit by closing regulation on a 13-3 run. There is simply no quit in either of these teams, so they're always going to fight to come back. Playing back at home tonight with their backs against the wall, expect the Grizzlies to come out sky high. The Clippers will have to focus and execute in the first quarter to keep the game close and get the crowd out of it. If the game is close at the end, expect Chris Paul to get the Clippers the win, as he has in three of four games in this series. As always, I recommend that you check out the Series Preview as well as the game previews from Game 2, Game 3 and Game 4 for more on the teams and the series. Below are the points that seem apropos to Game 5.

The Subplots

  • Key Grizzlies Metrics (regular season):
    Pace: 90.8 (18th of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 104.0 (19th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 101.8 (7th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics (regular season):
    Pace: 89.2 (27th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.5 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.7 (18th of 30)
  • The 3-1 Series. The Game 4 win OT win by the Clippers may be too much for the Grizzlies to overcome from the series standpoint. In NBA history, teams trailing 3-1 have come back to win a series just 8 times in over 200 chances. However, as for Game 5, when the home team is down 3-1, they've won Game 5 72% of the time (46-18 record). So NBA history would seem to indicate that the Grizzlies will win tonight, but the Clippers will win the series.
  • Bledsoe. Plus/minus can be misleading, especially in small sample sizes, but some numbers are hard to ignore. Eric Bledsoe is at +33 in 53 playoff minutes. In the fourth quarter, he's +38 in about 21 minutes. Bledsoe was a key part of the dominant fourth quarter defense that won Games 1 and 3, playing in a unit with Chris Paul, Reggie Evans and Blake Griffin -- but for some reason Vinny Del Negro went with Mo Williams over Bledsoe for the final four and a half minutes of Game 4, during which time the Clippers lost a 10 point lead and the Grizzlies forced overtime.
  • Del Negro. The conventional wisdom heading into the playoffs was that Del Negro would prove to be a liability, that he was not up to the challenge of the adjustments and game management necessary in the playoffs. For the most part, he's done well, finding combinations of players that work, and riding his stars to wins. But in Game 4, the cracks began to show a bit. The decision to go with Williams instead of Bledsoe down the stretch seems dubious in the extreme, given the numbers I've outlined above. All coaches tend to play hunches, Del Negro more than most, and he felt like Mo was rolling so he left him out there, despite the evidence that his strongest defensive unit definitely included Bledsoe. And then there was the end of overtime incident. With the Clippers inbounding while holding a 2 point lead and 8 seconds on the clock, VDN first failed to make the substitutions he should have at that point. Watching the play, he's clearly torn on whether or not to use one of his timeouts, but he did not need to use a timeout to get the correct personnel on the floor. Instead, he left Reggie Evans (51% on the season from the line, 31% in the playoffs) and Kenyon Martin (37% on the season, yet to take a free throw in the playoffs) in the game to begin the play. Then, just as the team's best foul shooter Mo Williams broke open and Martin delivered the ball, Del Negro finally asked for his timeout. Obviously he asked before he saw Williams open, but his post game explanation (Williams was doubled, the count was getting late) doesn't hold water -- the ball was delivered at about a count of 2. The mistake didn't end up hurting the Clippers -- they got the ball into Williams hands after the timeout and he sank the free throws to seal the victory -- but it could have, especially considering how many issues the Clippers have had inbounding the ball this season.
  • Griffin. Blake Griffin played well in Games 1 and 2 before struggling in Game 3, but he had his playoff break out in Game 4. He finished with 30 points on 10-15 shooting. His rebounds are down, partly because he's having to work so hard trying to box out the ultra aggressive Memphis bigs that he then doesn't have the opportunity to actually grab the ball -- which is why Chris Paul led the team in rebounding in Game 4. Griffin definitely needs to do a better job on the boards, but he found his groove on the offensive end on Monday night. He had success getting the ball early in the clock and starting his move right away, using his quickness to get some freedom before the double teams could pin him in. When doubles did come, he found his teammates for open looks, resulting in 7 assists.
  • Caron Butler. In Game 3, Caron Butler provided a spiritual lift for the Clippers when he took the floor with his broken hand wrapped in a protective sleeve. In Game 4, he provided tangible results, scoring the team's first 8 points when the team was struggling.
  • Tough luck Grizzlies. Memphis finds itself in a 3-1 hole in this series, with two of the losses coming by a single point and the third coming in overtime. The aggregate score for the series is Memphis 386, Clippers 385. But for a couple of plays here or there, a Rudy Gay buzzer-beater or two, this could be a very different series. Then again, it's also worth noting that the only game the Clippers didn't win they were far from full strength. Butler sat out Game 2, and by the end Williams, Bledsoe and Nick Young were also out with injuries suffered in the game. So you could say that the Grizzlies could be ahead in the series, or you could say that the series could already be over with the Clippers preparing for the Spurs. The bottom line is that the series is 3-1.
  • Defending Paul. For the first three games of the series, Lionel Hollins primarily used a combination of Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo to defend Chris Paul, with Tony Allen getting the assignment briefly at the end of the games. In Game 4, Allen was assigned to Paul from the opening tip. Allen is an All-Defensive team performer, probably the best perimeter defender in the NBA -- and it doesn't matter. Nothing the Grizzlies have thrown at Paul has worked -- certainly not at the end of games. I assume Hollins will stick with Allen for now and go down with his best player on the guy he has to stop.
  • How will the refs call it? In Game 2, the one game the Grizzlies won, the referees allowed Mayo and the other Memphis defenders to make tons of contact with Paul without blowing their whistles. In Game 4, Mayo had two fouls within five minutes of checking in, doing pretty much the exact same stuff he did in Game 2. How much the refs allow the Grizzlies to rough up the Clippers, especially Paul, will have a huge impact on the outcome of this game.
  • Third scorer. Randy Foye was the third scorer for the Clippers in Game 3. Caron Butler kind of filled that role in Game 4, though 11 of his 14 points came in the first quarter. The Clippers continue to need a third player to join Griffin and Paul in carrying the scoring workload. On Monday night, Griffin and Paul combined for 57 or the teams 101 points -- they probably can't do that every night.
  • Free throw shooting. The Clippers terrible foul shooting has not cost them a playoff game -- yet. They almost lost Game 3 because of it, shooting 13-30 from the line and missing five of six in the final seconds of the game. But the one game they lost they only missed five free throws (partly because they only took 18). In Game 4 the team shot 70% from the line -- acceptable. Blake Griffin was 10-17 which is 59%. That's better than he shot on the season, but it's not very good, and the bottom line is you hate to leave those 7 points on the table.
  • Turnovers. After averaging almost 19 turnovers per game in the first three, the Clippers were terrific taking care of the ball in Game 4. They had 12 turnovers total, and three of those were 24 second clock violations. The Grizzlies only managed 2 steals the entire game, none through the first three quarters. By putting Allen on Paul, the Grizzlies lose him in the passing lanes and doubling off his man. And let's face it, Allen's not going to get a lot of steals from Paul. Turnovers will continue to be a key to this series.
  • Offensive rebounds. If the Clippers did well on limiting their turnovers, they continue to struggle to keep Memphis off the offensive glass. The Grizzlies had 19 offensive rebounds on Monday night, and at one point led 20-0 in second chance points. Offensive rebounding won Game 2 for the Grizzlies and it kept them in Game 4. The Clippers need to do better.
  • Mike Conley. Conley had perhaps the best game of his career on Monday, almost single-handedly keeping the Grizzlies close. He finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists, the second 25-5-5 game of his career.
  • Close out game. The Clippers have won only one playoff series since moving to California in 1978. A win tonight would put them into the conference semi-finals for just the second time in 34 years and would be a great milestone in the Chris Paul era.
  • Get the Grizzlies perspective at Straight Outta Vancouver.
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