A week ago the Los Angeles Clippers led their first round NBA Playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies 2-0, a commanding lead that has resulted in a series win 94 percent of the time in NBA history. Three Memphis wins later, the Grizzlies have stormed in front 3-2. With a three game winning streak, a growing feeling of domination, and Game 6 at home, things seem pretty dire for the Clippers.
But wait, it gets worse. Blake Griffin, the Clippers three-time All Star and leading scorer, is currently hobbled by a high ankle sprain, and may not play in Game 6. Even if he does play, he'll be less than 100 percent. Then there's Chris Paul, who has a sprained thumb.
It all reminds me of something... something about this time last year... yes, it's all coming back to me now, I remember it like it was yesterday....
These same two teams met in the playoffs a year ago, and the similarities between tomorrow night's Game 6 and last year's Game 7 are almost eerie:
- The Clippers held a commanding lead in the series, a lead they soon lost;
- The Grizzlies took a winning streak, confidence and some dominant performances into a home game with a chance to win the series;
- Paul and Griffin were slowed by injuries;
- Gasol and Randolph were dominating the series.
I read through the Game 7 preview from last year's series, and aside from the specifics of the injuries, I could honestly use most of it this year. The idea that Zach Randolph was back to his 2011 playoff form for the first time since being injured makes a prominent appearance both then and now.
Griffin's ankle is probably more dicey than Paul's hip flexor problem was last year. But then again, Griffin also had a sprained knee last year, suffered in Game 5. We'll have to see what affect the ankle has, but in aggregate the 2012 combination of hip flexor and strained knee probably looked worse at the time than the 2012 combination of ankle and thumb.
I was at the Clippers' practice today. The Clippers are still calling Griffin a game time decision, but I'm 99 percent certain he'll play. He'll give it a try, that's not really the question. The question is, how effective will he be?
From a historical perspective, you may be surprised to know that the Clippers current predicament (down 3-2 with Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home) is not much worse, and in some ways not as bad as last year's situation (tied 3-3 with game 7 on the road). That makes no sense from a logical standpoint of course -- it's clearly not easier to win a road game AND then win a home game than it is to simply win a road game -- but history doesn't always make sense.
Historically, the home team wins about 85 percent of the time in Game 7; the Clippers overcame those odds last year. And historically, the team leading 3-2 wins the series about 86 percent of the time in the NBA (216 wins, 36 losses, .857). However, when you look at the specific pattern, two wins followed by three losses, it's a very different story. In 19 prior instances in NBA history, the team up 3-2, that is to say the team riding a three game winning streak, has gone on to win the series 10 times, while the trailing team has come back to win 9 times. Obviously that's a very small sample size, but it paints a very different picture, a much more balanced picture.
While there's no denying that the deck is still stacked against the Clippers, they do have a few things working in their favor:
- it is never easy to win four straight against a good team; the Grizzlies have won three in a row in this series, but that may make it less likely that they'll win a fourth;
- the Clippers have certainly won big games in Memphis in recent memory. The biggest of all was Game 7 last year; there was of course the 27-point comeback in Game 1; and don't forget that the Clippers went into Memphis on April 13 in the 80th regular season game this year and beat the Grizzlies in a game that both teams acknowledged was very important. The Clippers are 4-4 in their last eight games in Memphis, and they've arguably won the most important ones.
- the Clippers have desperation on their side. The fact that NBA teams down 3-2 facing a Game 6 on the road fare no worse than teams tied 3-3 playing Game 7 makes no sense from a mathematical standpoint, but it's almost understandable from an emotional standpoint. Game 6 is an elimination game for the Clippers, not for the Grizzlies; but if the Clippers can fend off elimination in Game 6, the odds swing back into their favor at home for Game 7.
- they have Chris Paul. In any big game, it's an advantage to have the best player on the court.
The Clippers are in trouble, don't get me wrong. But the citizens of Clips Nation can perhaps take comfort in knowing that they were just as much trouble in Game 7 last year, and they emerged victorious.