Prior to the beginning of the first round NBA Playoff Series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, I exchanged some questions with Kevin Lipe of SBNation's Grizzly Bear Blues. I answered his questions, he answered my questions, it was all very informative. At the end of it all, we made plans to get back together and talk as the series moved along.
Which we finally did today. With the series tied at two games apiece, there was plenty to talk about in the first four games. Rather than exchange emails with the inherent lag, we decided to get together on Google for a little GChat. We chatted for about an hour, and probably could have gone on for at least two more. Two things we never agreed on: whether or not Z-Bo contains a hyphen and how many Z's in Grizz.
Here's the conversation more or less unedited (I fixed a few typos and some sequence problems, but other than that, this is what we discussed):
Steve: I have a question for you...
After the first two games, Zach Randolph was averaging 13 points and what, 6 rebounds... you wrote about the potential end of the Z-Bo era in Memphis and Ziller was wondering if this was the new normal for Zach post injury
Then he went ka-boom... so which is it? Is Zach suddenly 2011 playoff Zach? If so, the Clippers are in trouble right?
Kevin: He definitely exploded in a way that I wasn't sure he was going to be able to
if you look at what was happening X's and O's wise, there was less isolation and more... hitting ZBo in the right place at the right time
combined with much more aggression from ZBo in the low post. I'm not sure what allowed him to flip the switch and turn back into 2011 Zach, but something like that appears to have happened
But, if this is the way it's going to be, I don't think the Clippers can stop him. LA's best hope was for Jordan and Griffin to be able to be physical with Randolph and disrupt his game. If those two freak athletes can't out-physical Randolph, I don't know who can.
I mean, is Ryan Hollins or Lamar Odom going to muscle him more than Griffin? I don't think so. Griffin is an all-star caliber player.
Steve: Lamar is a terrific defender and he's long... forget Hollins -- he doesn't have the strength
this raises the question of whether Del Negro has stuck with his "deep" rotation too long.... Hollins and Turiaf have been dreadful, yet they continue to show up in my morning box scores
The rebounding story has been so completely reversed from the LA games to the Memphis games...
Kevin: Yeah, the rebounds have been nuts. The Grizzlies were doing a terrible job of boxing out in the games in LA. Something about what LA was doing made it hard for the Grizzlies to keep them from getting offensive rebounds
Turiaf has been surprisingly... non-dreadful
Steve: I like Turiaf a lot actually, and thought he'd be effective in this series... but he can't seem to defend without fouling
Kevin: no, but since he's been effective, i think the Clips have to keep letting him play
I was in the press conference after game 3
and it seemed like VDN couldn't do anything but say the word "rebounding" over and over
Steve: It's been a determining factor in the first four games... which again, doesn't bode well for the Clippers.
I'd like to think LA can win a game without winning the boards... simply by not getting destroyed
Kevin: It seems that way, right? In all four of these games, it feels like the team that loses just isn't playing well
but, given the history, that can't be the case, right? Doesn't it have to be something the winning teams are doing?
Steve: Well in Game 3 I thought the Grizzlies defense was stupendous
Kevin: True. Especially from Allen and Conley i thought
Steve: Clippers looked like they played poorly, and they weren't great, but the defense had a LOT to do with that
Kevin: Game 4 seemed like it got away from LA in the third
Steve: Game 4? Zero points from billups and bulter? Crawford missing open looks? Yuck.
That was not a good game for LA, to be sure.
Kevin: Well, and Tayshaun Prince returned from beyond the grave
Steve: What a contrast to last year's series too. Almost every game came down to the wire last year...
Kevin: How big of a difference maker is he, from the LA perspective?
Steve: If he's hitting shots, it's a huge difference.
Kevin: he's gone off for huge games against the clippers all year... except in games 1-3
Steve: And he's always been great against the Clippers, going back to his Detroit days
Look, you figure playing the Grizzlies that they're going to play great D and pound the glass.... but they'll struggle to score.
Don't forget about Tony Allen's offense in this series. He's been outstanding
Kevin: the games have gone: LA +21, LA +2, MEM +12, MEM +21. Not a good trend if you're LA, but I don't think the Clippers are going to roll over, by any stretch of the imagination. How are Clippers fans feeling about Game 5?
Steve: Well, Clippers fans are by nature fatalistic.... years of practice. So many are feeling pretty dour.
Kevin: Must've felt that way playing a game 7 in Memphis last year, though
Steve: For sure
But frankly, at the series level, I think momentum is overrated
We tend to think that the team that has won two straight is really likely to win the third... in fact, it's probably the opposite... it's very, very hard to beat a good team three in a row
Pride enters the picture, an energy born of desperation, whatever
Kevin: Yeah. I think we saw some of that "desperation mode" from the Griz in Game 2
they really wanted to steal one of those first 2
Steve: Strange that home court has been so important in this postseason when it seemed almost meaningless to these teams in recent meetings
Of course we're hoping that it remains important
Kevin: Yeah. But I think something was "wrong" every time these two played each other in the regular season.
Season opener was just that: first game of the year
second game was in the middle of a streak before the Rudy Gay trade where the Grizzlies dropped three straight by 20 points
third game was missing bledsoe
fourth game was Lionel Hollins throwing the kitchen sink out there to see what would work in the playoffs, to very poor results
the fourth game was probably the closest to "full strength"
Steve: I still feel like Hollins is experimenting with the lineups
Every game is a little different
Obviously the last two went better at least
Kevin: who thought we'd see Keyon Dooling this much? Dude was on a couch three weeks ago.
Steve: I know. Weird. Former Clipper of course. We were big Dooling fans back in the day. I think that was about 30 years ago though.
Kevin: Back in the San Diego days, right?
Steve: Buffalo, maybe...
I have a question for you about Gasol... I know he's certainly capable of making that face up 20 footer, but I was still dismayed by how well he shot it Saturday.
Was that an outlier, or do you expect him to make those shots?
Kevin: That set shot is absolutely killer
no, I expect him to make every single one of those
From the elbow to just under the 3-point line, that flat-footed shot he takes is money
Steve: Well then why the hell did he only take 11 field goals per game during the regular season?
Shouldn't he be shooting more?
Kevin: welcome to being a grizzlies fan
gasol is a pass-first guy
he will always look to facilitate instead of getting his
except, against the clippers, it hurts the team for him not to score
Steve: I would think it would hurt against every team. Grizz offense was ranked 17 or something... the guy's a major weapon
Kevin: his biggest flaw as a player, to me, is that he's not aggressive enough with his scoring.
well, and the offense uses him as a distributor more than as a scorer
but he's absolutely a deadly scoring threat
Steve: He can be both a scorer and a facilitator (as we've seen in this series)
Kevin: i have a blake question
Kevin: Griffin was really, really good in the first two games, even though Z-Bo was trying to beat him up instead of playing good defense on him.
What happened? We even saw him start trying to front Z-Bo in the post, and he still just got his ass handed to him in games 3 and 4.
I'm one of the rare Griz fans that thinks Blake is a good basketball player, so it's been surprising to see him start to wilt a little bit and let Randolph beat him into submission.
Steve: Well I thought Blake was fine in Game 4... 19 and 10 in 32 minutes
Kevin: maybe, but he absolutely had Z-Bo's number in games 1 and 2
Steve: It's the rebounding that has been the big factor to me. Zach (and Gasol) are getting those offensive boards that fuel the Grizzlies; those weren't happening in the LA games
And that's effort -- on both sides.
I'm not sure how much to credit Blake vs. how much to blame Zach in Games 1 and 2 -- but keeping those guys off the offensive glass is key
Griffin has never been a great fundamental rebounder; he jumps for rebounds rather than boxing out for rebounds
which allows ZBo to put his prodigious backside between Griffin and the bal
Steve: but he's generally a hard worker and coachable and they've been emphasizing that he has to get on Z-Bo
Kevin: ZBo is one of the best I've ever seen in terms of getting into position
Steve: ZBo is the complete opposite of Blake... he gets sublime position, and then uses his body to keep the other guy from jumping. Then he scoops the ball up in those magnificent mitts
Kevin: he's done as good of a job as anybody can when ZBo is playing at this level. Which, if I'm honest, I didn't think ZBo still had this sort of playoff production in him
and i am SO glad I was wrong
As I said, we could have kept going, but we had to cut it off at some point. Maybe if the series goes to a seventh game, we'll do another followup. I'm not sure either of us could face having this type of conversation down 3-2.