NBA Playoffs Round 1 Game 4 Clippers-Grizzlies preview: A turning point

USA TODAY Sports

By the end of this game, either the Clippers will be up 3-1 and the series will be as good as over, over it will be starting over as a best of three series after the Grizzlies even things up 2-2. So yeah, this is a big game.

2013 NBA Playoffs - First Round
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56-26

56-26
Game 4 - April 27th, 2013, 1:30 PM
FedEx Forum, Memphis
Prime Ticket, TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Series Schedule
Clippers lead series 2-1
Game 1 - Sat April 20 in Los Angeles, Clippers 112, Grizzlies 91
Game 2 - Mon April 22 in Los Angeles, Clippers 93, Grizzlies 91
Game 3 - Thu April 25 in Memphis, Grizzlies 94, Clippers 82
Game 4 - Sat April 27, 1:30 p.m., Memphis, FedEx Forum
Game 5 Tue April 30, Time 7:30 p.m., Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 6 * Fri May 3, Time TBD, Memphis, FedEx Forum
Game 7 * Sun May 5, Time TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
* if necessary
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mike Conley
Chauncey Billups SG Tony Allen
Caron Butler SF Tayshaun Prince
Blake Griffin PF Zach Randolph
DeAndre Jordan C Marc Gasol
Key Reserves
Eric Bledsoe PG Keyon Dooling
Jamal Crawford SG Jerryd Bayless
Matt Barnes SF Quincy Pondexter
Lamar Odom PF Darrell Arthur
Ryan Hollins C Ed Davis
Regular Season Advanced Stats
91.1 (19th of 30) Pace 88.4 (30th of 30)
110.6 (4th of 30) ORtg 104.9 (17th of 30)
103.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 100.3 (2nd of 30)
Injuries/Suspensions/Other
None
None

The Back Story:

-- October 31, 2012 in Los Angeles | Clippers 101, Grizzlies 92 | Recap | Box Score

-- January 14, 2013 in Memphis | Clippers 99, Grizzlies 73 | Recap | Box Score

-- March 13, 2013 in Los Angeles | Grizzlies 96, Clippers 85 | Recap | Box Score

-- April 13, 2013 in Memphis | Clippers 91, Grizzlies 87 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

After going up 2-0 in the series with a pair of wins in Los Angeles, the Clippers stumbled in Memphis in losing Game 3. It's not surprising -- or rather, it would have been surprising had the Clippers actually gone up 3-0 on a team as good as the Grizzlies -- but the crucial game is this afternoon. The difference in the series between a Clippers win tonight (up 3-1 with three chances to close out the series, two of them at home) and a Clippers loss (tied 2-2 with the Grizzlies holding the momentum and needing to steal just one game at STAPLES to take home court advantage) is night and day. The Clippers are by no means in deep trouble with a loss in this one -- they'll still have home court advantage in a best of three series -- but it's a whole new series if they lose. On the other hand, if they win, the series is as good as over. For the Clippers to even have a chance to win, they'll have to get a better game from Chris Paul, who turned in one of the worst playoff performances of his career in Game 3, with just eight points and more turnovers (five) than assists (four). The hyper-competitive Paul knows he had a poor game, and you can rest assured that he'll come out focused and motivated in this one.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies didn't look very Grizzly-like in the L.A. games, but they were their old ursine selves back in Memphis. After being outrebounded in the first two games, they battered the Clippers on the offensive glass in Game 3 with 17 rebounds and 22 second chance points. Regular season leading scorer Zach Randolph, who scored just 13 points in each of the first two games, went for 27 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3. And most of all, the Grizzlies played defense, keeping the Clippers out of any semblance of offense all night. Part of that was a defensive assignment switch -- after giving Mike Conley responsibility for Paul in L.A., Lionel Hollins went 'big' in Game 3, putting Tony Allen on CP3 at the start, and using the 6'6 Quincy Pondexter on him as well. It worked in Game 3 -- but Paul didn't become the best point guard in the NBA by letting things work against him for long. But if Memphis can continue to play stellar defense, and can ride Randolph on offense, they've got a great chance to even the series.

The Subplots

  • Series Preview. Be sure to check out the Series Preview; all the good stuff in there is still plenty applicable.
  • The Westbrook factor. Both of these teams know what Russell Westbrook's knee injury could mean for them. It's not as if they didn't want to win this series before, but at some level they may have felt that they weren't really getting past the second round anyway. At this point, with the All NBA point guard out of action indefinitely, both the Clippers and the Grizzlies would probably be favored in a series with the Thunder. Neither one of these teams has ever been to the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals, and the path to the Finals just got a lot easier. It probably doesn't change this series -- both teams wanted to win before -- but it did raise the stakes, since the winner now has a much better chance to make a deep postseason run.
  • Paul and Griffin. In 592 career regular season and playoff games, Chris Paul has had more turnovers than assists 10 times. That's less than 1.69 percent of the time. In 242 career regular season and playoff games, Blake Griffin has had two or fewer rebounds four times. That's 1.65 percent of the time. When you consider that Paul and Griffin each had performances that were outliers on the bad side, it makes perfect sense that the Clippers lost.
  • Energy. The Clippers will have to play with more energy in Game 4. The Memphis defense is formidable to be sure -- and it's basically unbeatable against a lethargic offense. If the Clippers are going to walk the ball up and drift through their offensive sets, it's going to be another long game.
  • Clipper guards. Clipper guards Paul, Billups, Crawford and Bledsoe were great in the L.A. games, especially Game 1. In Game 3, none of them were any good. The fact that Paul was sub-par might -- might -- have been survivable had Bledsoe been able to come in and play like he typically has against the Grizzlies. Instead, he was out of control the entire time. The Clippers will have to get a much better performance from their backcourt if they want to go back to L.A. with the series lead.
  • Memphis bench. After three games, I have no idea what Lionel Hollins' substitution patterns are. In Game 1, he played the bench 101 minutes, in Game 2 the starters went almost the entire way and the bench logged just 44 minutes. In Game 3 he split the difference and used the subs 68 minutes. The way he used them was interesting too. Most coaches rest their stars twice over the course of a game -- Hollins brought in Keyon Dooling for Conley four separate times for brief rests. It's like he's trying things for the first time. Did he land on something that works in Game 3? Most importantly, Pondexter had a huge game. with 13 points in 26 minutes. The Clippers eventually outscored the Grizzlies bench in Game 3 -- 35-30 -- but that's not nearly as big an advantage as the Clippers need off the bench. If the Memphis bench can continue to hold their own, the Clippers will be in trouble.
  • Quick turnaround. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, but this game is a quicker turnaround than most, with a late Thursday night game followed by a Saturday afternoon game. There is a big pretty big difference in the total minutes played by the team's respective stars so far: Paul, Griffin and Crawford have played 104, 93 and 84 minutes respectively, while Gasol, Conley, Prince and Randolph have played 121, 109, 97 and 93. In a way, the Grizzlies may be fortunate that Randolph had foul trouble in the first two games, because at least it kept his minutes down. I don't really expect fatigue to be a big factor -- but if the Grizzlies are going to look tired in a game, this could be the one.
  • TNT. The game is once again on TNT, which means we get to once again listen to the expert and completely unbiased analysis of Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. Gee, I can't wait. Those of us in Southern California can at least opt for Ralph and Mike on Prime Ticket. In the rest of the country, maybe grab a bite to eat at halftime.
  • Connections. Zach Randolph is a former Clipper who they traded to Memphis to make room for Blake Griffin after winning the lottery and making Griffin the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. Keyon Dooling, who came out of retirement to sign with the Grizzlies a couple weeks ago and immediately became their backup point guard, began his 13 year NBA career as a Clipper. Prince and Billups were teammates for over six seasons in Detroit and won an NBA title together. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and assistant coach Henry Bibby each played for the San Diego Clippers in the early 80s. Clippers assistant coach Marc Iavaroni was head coach of the Grizzlies for a season and a half from 07 to 09.
  • Get the Memphis perspective at Grizzly Bear Blues.
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