Congratulations to the Memphis Grizzlies. It was a bizarre series with a beyond bizarre final game, but none of that can take anything away from the Grizzlies, who from Game 3 to Game 6 played brilliant basketball. Were the Clippers at their best while they were losing four straight? No. Would it have mattered if they had been? I'm not sure, because Memphis was simply terrific.
How weird was this game? How about 20 Memphis free throws in the first quarter? How about Joey Crawford tossing both Chris Paul and Zach Randolph in the final minutes simply because he's Joey Crawford and the NBA has for some reason given him the authority to do what he likes? How about 118 points for the Grizzlies, five more than they've scored all season?
With Blake Griffin still hobbled by a sprained right ankle, the Clippers started Lamar Odom -- and then bizarrely, brought Griffin off the bench. Why? I would think that playing with a sprained ankle, the last thing you'd want to do would be to warm up, then go sit on the bench for 15 minutes before playing.
Stranger still, with his best front court player limited to 14 minutes by injury, Del Negro compensated by... abandoning his front court altogether. Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf, who had combined to play 76 minutes in the first five games, didn't get off the bench in this one. DeAndre Jordan played a series low 17 minutes. Odom started, but played only 23. Traditional bigs (Griffin, Jordan and Odom) combined to play 54 minutes -- which means that for 42 minutes of a 48 minute game, Del Negro was playing small.
Which is an interesting response to a series in which the Memphis bigs have been destroying you. Which brings me to another movie quote: It's a bold strategy Cotton, let's see if it pays off for 'em.
Del Negro reached into his bag of tricks to produce both Grant Hill and Willie Green. Hill had not played a minute in the series, and Green had only played garbage minutes. The strategy was kind of working, when Green hit a layup to cut the lead to seven late in the third quarter. But Del Negro went back to Chauncey Billups in the fourth. Billups has been dreadful in the series, and his unforced turnover with less than five minutes remaining and the deficit down to six more or less killed the last chance the Clippers had in this game.
Continuing with the bizarre facets of this game, the Clippers actually outrebounded the Grizzlies, despite playing small all night. They held Memphis to six offensive rebounds, which is a major accomplishment. What they couldn't do was accomplish any of this without fouling -- a lot. The Grizzlies took 47 free throws in the game -- almost twice as many as the Clippers 24 -- and while I'd love to be up in arms and tell you that the refs were aiding Memphis, I really can't. Were there a few weird calls here and there? Sure, as there always are. But by and large the Clippers committed a lot of fouls, and as a result the Grizzlies paraded to the free throw line.
Strangest of all, Jamal Crawford, the Clippers sixth man extraordinaire, their highest per minute scorer on the season, one of their big three all year, did not appear in the second half of the game. Green did. Billups did. But Crawford did not. It was the first time this season that a healthy Crawford failed to make an appearance in the second half of a game. And when you consider that the while the Clippers were promoting Crawford for the Sixth Man Award they went to a lot of trouble to communicate to the media that JCrossover was in the top five in fourth quarter scoring in the NBA this season, it's almost inconceivable. I'd say that this might make it awkward for Crawford as we move into next season, but given that there's basically no chance that Del Negro will be back, I guess the tension will blow over.
I could go on and on about the anomalies from this game: Matt Barnes scored a playoff, season and Clippers high 30 points; the Clippers, seventh in the NBA in blocked shots, had zero rejections for only the second time all season; Tony Allen tied his season-high with 19 points; Memphis was 8-19 from three point range. But really, I'm a little numb.
So congratulations to the Grizzlies, who frankly have a great chance in the next round against the Thunder if they keep playing like this. We'll start with the post mortem on the Clippers at a later date.