That was an unreal game. The Clippers Dynamic Duo was huge tonight, with Chris Paul putting the team on his back in overtime. Box score is here for anyone who missed it. More after the jump.This game was a thriller, and easily the best game of the playoffs so far. Memphis came out from the jump and played like they had to get a win. They jumped out to a 10-2 lead before the Clippers were able to begin to look comfortable in their offense. Caron Butler, who provided a mostly emotional lift in game 3, was a real difference maker tonight, carrying the Clippers in the first quarter with 11 points. Caron Butler is a huge asset for the Clips. A veteran who has never been afraid of the moment (going back to his days at UCONN), Caron offers the Clippers a little bit of what they lost when Chauncey went down- swagger. He would go on to score 14 points and play some tough defense in 26 minutes of play tonight tonight. The Clips closed out the quarter strong behind Butler and led 32-26 after one, shooting 61% and connecting on 7 of 7 free throws. Blake Griffin picked up two
fouls in the first quarter on very questionable calls, the latter of which an offensive foul drawn by Gasol. The frustrating part of this call was that Blake has had the exact same defensive play go against him in each of the last two games. The fouls for Griffin would go on to be a major storyline in the game.
Blake Griffin had his breakout playoff performance tonight, scoring 30 points, doing it against just about every defender on the Memphis bench. At one point in the second quarter, Griffin had three consecutive post scores, besting Zach Randolph with some great up and under moves. Zbo let his frustration show, stepping to Blake and chest bumping him, earning a technical foul in the process. To Blake's credit, he remained calm and walked away from this confrontation and just about every other hard foul that took place, including what appeared to be a flagrant foul by Rudy Gay in the early going. He was a little too quiet on the boards, finishing with only 5 rebounds, but he chipped in 7 assists tonight. As Mike Smith is quick to point out, the Clippers are a tough team to beat when that happens. 10 points for Blake in the second quarter. Chris Paul chipped in 11-5-5, and the Clippers took a 50-46 lead into the half.
This has been a physical, hard fought series through the first three games, and tonight was no exception. Memphis came out and dominated the offensive glass tonight, with 19 offensive boards. The Clips had no second chance points well into the fourth quarter. Memphis' hard work on the boards and tough defense, combined with some really poor free throw shooting by the Clippers kept them in a game they really had no business being in. They battled back every time the Clippers created some breathing room in the score. The Grizzlies put Tony Allen on Chris Paul for most of the game, but truthfully, it didn't really seem to bother Chris Paul, who made it through regulation without a single turnover. Offensively, for the Grizzlies, Mike Conley was the star, scoring 25 points on 10/15 shooting, knocking down both of his 3 point attempts. He also chipped in 7 rebounds and 8 assists. Rudy Gay was 8 for 25 for 23 points. The big surprise was Marc Gasol, who was quiet tonight with 8 points on just 4 field goal attempts.
The fourth quarter was a microcosm of the entire game, with the Grizzlies playing tough to start the quarter. The Clippers were in a battle, and when Chris Paul went to the bench for his break (joining Blake Griffin), it was nervous time in Staples Center. When Blake Griffin came back into the game, he joined Kenyon Martin, Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young, and Mo Williams. This unit played a stretch of inspired defense and got out and ran on the Grizzlies, pushing the lead to ten. With Chris Paul set to come back in the game, it looked like the Clips should have put this game away, but a quick 4 points from Rudy Gay, a missed tip in by Chris Paul at the rim, and a Mike Conley three erased all that hard work. When Blake Griffin picked up his 5th foul with four minutes to go, coach Vinny Del Negro opted to take him out of the game in an attempt to save him down the stretch. The Clippers offense predictably struggled during this time, and Memphis capitalized. He would return with about 2 minutes left. After a big Chris Paul Bucket with 29 seconds left, Zach Randolph made two free throws to tie the game. The Clippers final possession ended with Chris Paul losing his footing and succumbing to a hard double team by the Grizzlies. This game was headed for overtime.
Blake Griffin entered the overtime with 5 fouls. Chris Paul had his first turnover on the first possession of overtime. Seatbelts were officially fastened. The Clippers would strike first on a Chris Paul bucket after a HUGE Reggie Evans rebound. First second chance points of the game. After not getting a whole lot of calls through the first four quarters, the Clips got away with a foul as Blake pushed off on Gasol to get another offensive board, and get a score plus the foul. Not to worry, the Refs made up for that indiscretion by handing Blake his 6th foul on a ticky tack touch foul on the baseline on a Mike Conley pass off. With Blake out of the game, it was officially Chris Paul time. Paul would go on to score 8 points in a masterful overtime period. But the Grizzlies refused to die, cutting the lead to two with 8 seconds to go. But the Clippers were able to inbound the ball to Mo Williams, who iced the game with two free throws.
So the Clippers take a 3-1 lead in the series, heading back to Memphis for game 5 on Wednesday. It should be a heck of a battle. Memphis is a resilient tough team and they will be playing in front of a raucous home crowd. "We believe" signs will be all over the stadium, something the national broadcast won't shy away from showing all night. I can't wait to see how the Clips respond in that game. My gut says that Chris Paul comes to play and his team mates will respond, but Memphis will not give this game away without a fight. If the first 4 games are any indication, the next game is sure to be a dogfight.
The long ball:
Tonight was a quiet night for the Clips from three, making just 5-16 from three. Luckily, Memphis was equally average, going just 4 of 13. It is nice to see the Clips get a win without depending on the three point shot tonight.
Chris Paul was masterful tonight in the overtime period. You can be sure that the Grizzlies are going to do their best to take the ball out of his hand now, particularly in late game situations. The likely response is to trap him on every pick n roll. This is easier said than done, but the Clippers need to be ready to adjust, and Mo Williams, Randy Foye, and the rest of the Clipper shooters need to be ready to respond. Coach Del Negro will be tested in game 5.
Rebounding: Chris Paul was the leading rebounder for the Clips tonight with 9. Reggie Evans put in his usual solid effort with 8 boards, But Blake, DJ and K-Mart combined for 9. That has to get better next week. The Clipper bigs need to make a conscious effort to rebound and secure the ball.