Did anyone really think this was going to be a Clippers' sweep? Sure, it would have been nice, but the Grizzlies are too good a team, and realistically this was never going to be a Clippers' sweep. This was exactly the games the Grizzlies wanted, they got it, and they won it. They deserve lots of credit for creating the game they wanted, a game where the Clippers were playing in fetters all evening.
In a way, it's pretty easy for the Clippers to move on from this one. Sure, this was Memphis' game, and if the Grizzlies are able to play this way for the rest of the series, then they could make things very uncomfortable for the Clippers. But at the same time, Chris Paul is unlikely to have another game this bad, against the Memphis defense or any other defense. Paul had more turnovers (five) in this game than assists (four) -- that's only happened ten times in his career, in 591 regular season and playoff games.
As for the Grizzlies, everything that wasn't happening in the first two games happened in this one. In fact, in several key categories, the stats from Game 3 equal or exceed those from the first two games combined. The Clippers held Memphis to 12 total offensive rebounds in the L.A. games -- the Grizzlies had 17 tonight. Zach Randolph had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the first two games; he went for 27 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3.
And yet, with things going very right for Memphis and very wrong for L.A., the Clippers were still within five points in the fourth quarter. Had the Clippers been able to sustain any sort of run, they might have stolen the game. But they never really found a groove all evening, so they'll just have to point towards Saturday as their chance to win in Memphis and keep control of the series.
Neither team shot well -- in fact, both were an equally frigid 38.8 percent from the field. But there was something about exactly who struggled from the field that seemed to favor Memphis. The group of Clipper guards that had been so brilliant in L.A. particularly in Game 1 was just as futile in Memphis. Paul (4-11), Chauncey Billups (3-8), Jamal Crawford (3-10) and Eric Bledsoe (0-4) combined to make just 10 shots in 33 tries. With Paul slogging through perhaps the worst playoff performance of his career, the Clippers might still have made a game of this had Bledsoe come into the game as his usual Grizzlyslayer persona. Instead he scored zero points, missing each of his shots in disturbing fashion. There's also a huge difference in 38.8 percent shooting with five offensive rebounds (the Clippers) and 38.8 percent shooting with 17 offensive rebounds (the Grizzlies); all those extra possessions actually made the Grizzlies offensive night fairly efficient, despite the poor shooting.
Let me reiterate that most of the credit for the Clippers offensive struggles should go to the Memphis defense. Sometimes you watch a team shoot under 40 percent and it's mostly about the team missing shots. This was not one of those games. The Clippers didn't shoot well by any means, and they might have made some shots they missed, but for the most part they struggled from the field because the Grizzlies forced them into taking difficult, contested shots. On two different occasions Matt Barnes was forced to heave long three pointers towards the rim as the shot clock expired. In the second half, "the shot clock is at four" became a meme for Ralph and Mike. We know that the Clippers can do more to attack the Memphis pressure than they did tonight -- clearly Paul is capable of playing better, and the team on the whole lacked the necessary energy. But there's a reason Memphis won 56 games, and it ain't their high-flying offense. The bottom line is, the Grizzlies brought their A+ defense tonight and the Clippers were no better than a C -- that combination will result in an F every time (or in this case, an L).
One thing seems fairly certain in this series -- the Grizzlies are going to score in the low 90s. Until a Tony Allen three pointer in the final seconds (his second of the series after making three in 79 regular season games), Memphis sat on 91 points, their exact point total from each of the first two games. So it's inherent on the Clippers to score more than 91 at least. If Memphis can hold them in the 80s (82 tonight, and it took a couple of late Lamar Odom three pointers just to get there), this series is going to get dicey.
There's one thing that makes me suspect that Saturday's game will be very different: Chris Paul hates to lose, and he especially hates it when he thinks he is responsible for it. After such a non-Chris-Paul performance, I wouldn't bet against him in Game 4. He may or may not be able to lead the Clippers to the road victory they would dearly love to have, but there's no way he's going to have such a poor performance, and I strongly suspect he'll be great.
It will take more than just a bounce-back game from Paul though -- in particular, the Clippers need to re-commit to protecting their defensive glass as they did in the first two games. No one expects the Grizzlies to be held to four offensive rebounds again -- that's unrealistically few. But at the same time 17 is way too many. If Randolph is pulling down six offensive rebounds while Griffin is getting two rebounds total, something is very, very wrong.
In the end, this seemed like a good example of Citizen Zhiv's "Hungrier Team Theory." The Grizzlies were clearly the hungrier team Thursday night, as you would have expected them to be. After going without a win, hopefully the Clippers could come back voracious on Saturday.
For the Memphis perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.
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