NBA Playoffs Round 1 Game 6 Clippers-Grizzlies preview: A literal must win

Stephen Dunn

What had been the most successful season in Clippers franchise history could end tonight in a fourth straight NBA Playoff loss to the Grizzlies. Can the Clippers stave off elimination and bring the series back to L.A. for Game 7?

2013 NBA Playoffs - First Round
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56-26

56-26
Game 6 - May 3rd, 2013, 6:30 p.m.
FedEx Forum
FS West, ESPN2, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Series Schedule
Grizzlies lead series 3-2
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 in Memphis, Grizzlies 104, Clippers 83
Game 5 - Tue April 30 in Los Angeles, Grizzlies 103, Clippers 93
Game 6 - Fri May 3, Time 6:30, 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
Blake Griffin (ankle) GTD
Keyon Dooling (neck) probable

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:

What happened? The Clippers led this series two games to zero, a position that leads to a series victory more than nine times out of ten. Then they lost three in a row, and haven't put up much of a fight, especially in the fourth quarter of the losses. Prior to these last three games, the Clippers had seemed to have the Grizzlies number, particularly late in games. So what has happened to completely flip the script? It's hard to say exactly -- all the things that Memphis does best (in particular defense and post play from Randolph and Gasol) have been on full display, and whereas last year and earlier this season the Clippers always seemed to break through eventually, in the past three games it hasn't happened -- hasn't even come particularly close to happening. And now the Clippers have to beat the Grizzlies two straight or watch what had been the best season in franchise history end in a very bitter playoff defeat. The task is made all the more difficult by the fact that Blake Griffin sprained an ankle prior to Game 6, which limited him to 20 minutes and four points in that game. He's listed as a game time decision today, but I'd be shocked if he didn't play. With Griffin hobbled and the rest of the team a no-show for a few games, Chris Paul was left to try and win the game by himself on Tuesday. It was a valiant effort, and he finished with 35 points which tied his career playoff high. Jamal Crawford finally started hitting some shots in the fourth quarter, but no one else on the Clippers scored in double figures, and no one looked particularly good. More than anything else, that may be the key to any Clippers comeback -- the rest of the team has got to step up, particularly if Griffin is one again limited.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies have looked unbeateable the last few games. In the fourth quarter on Tuesday, the Clippers scored two quick buckets to cut the Memphis lead to four, and it seemed like L.A. was poised for a run. The Clippers wound up scoring 24 more points in the quarter, which should have given them a chance, provided they could get some stops on the defensive end. They couldn't. Zach Randolph and Tayshaun Prince combined to make eight out of nine field goals in the fourth quarter, and the Clippers never got closer than four points. In fact, while defense is the Grizzlies' calling card, for the last two games it has been the Clippers' inability to stop the Memphis offense that has been their downfall. Randolph has averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds over the last three games, and nothing the Clippers have done to try to slow him has helped. Marc Gasol has been just as good if not better. But you would expect Randolph and Gasol to play well -- Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter and the other Memphis role players are also killing the Clippers right now.

The Subplots

  • Series Preview. Be sure to check out the Series Preview; all the good stuff in there is still plenty applicable.
  • Getting stops. The Clippers defense opened the fourth quarter Tuesday night with a blocked shot and two steals. The rest of the quarter -- that is to say for almost 11 minutes in a crucial playoff game -- they could not get back-to-back stops. Giving up five offensive rebounds (one after a free throw) and losing a crucial jump ball they should have won didn't help matters.
  • Forcing turnovers. Parting of getting stops is forcing turnovers. The Clippers led the NBA in forced turnovers in the regular season at over 15 a game. They have forced an average of just 10 turnovers in five post season games, which is tied with the Lakers for last among the 16 playoff teams. This is really an underdiscussed aspect of the Clippers postseason swoon -- a big part of their success this season was almost 10 steals and over 15 forced turnovers per game. Those numbers are down to six and 10 in the playoffs, and it's been a major problem. This is a big difference between this series and the series last season -- the Clippers are now the team that thrives on forcing turnovers, while the Grizzlies are actually better than the Clippers are taking care of the ball.
  • The role players. Let's call the Clippers' big three Paul, Griffin and Crawford. Let's call Memphis' big three Randolph, Gasol and Conley. Griffin and Crawford have underperformed, though in Griffin's case part of that is the injury which kept his Game 5 numbers down. Randolph, Gasol and Conley have all been great, with playoff PERs above 20. But just as important, maybe more important in the last three games, has been the performance of the rest of the teams. Prince, Allen and Pondexter have significantly outplayed their Clippers counterparts. Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler have been dreadful; Lamar Odom has played good defense, but continues to be a no-show on offense. Eric Bledsoe isn't getting enough minutes because Paul has to be on the floor constantly. DeAndre Jordan is averaging five points per 36 minutes after averaging 13 per 36 during the regular season. The vaunted Clippers depth has become a depth of mediocrity in this series. Whether they are unable to perform against the Memphis defense, or overwhelmed by the moment (which shouldn't apply to the likes of Billups and Odom and Butler), or all slumping simultaneously, one thing is for certain -- those guys MUST show up tonight in Memphis.
  • Allen's rebounding. Tony Allen is a great rebounding guard, one of the best in the league during the regular season. But what he's doing to the Clippers on the boards in this series is ridiculous. Allen's 6.4 rebounds per game would be second on the Clippers this series, just behind Jordan's 6.8. Allen is getting more rebounds per 36 minutes than Griffin in the series. He's getting 2.5 offensive rebounds per 36 in the series. One of the reasons the Clippers have been unable to stop Gasol and Randolph is that when they double, the logical person to leave free is the non-shooter Allen. Not only has Allen made the Clippers pay by hitting shots, he's also been free to crash the offensive glass. We knew he'd be a factor with his defense, but Allen has killed the Clippers in every aspect of the game this series.
  • Billups. There was always the sneaking suspicion, the nagging fear in Clips Nation that having Chauncey Billups healthy for the playoffs wouldn't necessarily be a good thing -- that the lineup featuring Willie Green that was part of all of the best Clipper moments this season would be abandoned for a unit that hasn't played a lot together, and hasn't been that great when they have played. Specifically, the blessing and curse of Billups is that he still believes he's Mr. Big Shot -- he won't shy away from taking tough shots, even if maybe it would be better if he did at this point. Those fears were more or less realized during this losing streak. Billups has made just 6-24 from the field in the last four games, and on the defensive end he has been lit up by Tony Allen of all people. I understand the allure of Billups, but it's backfired in this series. Vinny Del Negro has begun to curtail Billups minutes -- 23 in Game 3, to 18 in Game 4 and just 12 in Game 5 -- but don't expect him to change the starting lineup.
  • Three point shooting. The Clippers shot around 36 percent from three point range during the regular season, right around the league average. They made 7.6 per game, tenth best in the league. In the playoffs, they are shooting under 30 percent from deep. Crawford is 6-20, Bledsoe is 1-9 and Barnes is 1-10. they're making just 5.6 threes per game. The three ball was a big part of the Clippers attack during the regular season, and it has been mostly missing in this series. Look at it this way -- Paul should be driving into the lane and finding open three point shooters -- yet Paul has as many made threes (six) as anyone else on the Clippers in the post season. That's a big problem.
  • The optimistic view. About the best thing you can say about the Clippers' current situation is that it's no worse than the situation they faced heading into Game 7 in Memphis last May. The Clippers don't have to win two games tonight -- they just have to win this one. If they can win tonight in Memphis, they'll be favored in Game 7 in L.A. There are a few others reasons to hope for the best tonight which you can read about here.
  • 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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