In stark contrast to last seasons series between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies play seven close, hard fought games, most of which were decided by a single possession, the Clippers opened the rematch by thoroughly dominating the Grizzlies in Game 1. The Clippers led from wire-to-wire, and though the Grizzlies pulled to within one point early in the fourth quarter on a Keyon Dooling three pointer, the Clippers closed the game on a 35-15 run to turn it into a laugher.
It's hard to know whether the Clippers can repeat this performance though. L.A. won the rebounding battle 47-23 against one of the best rebounding teams in the league, which is pretty hard to imagine. The truth of the matter is that Memphis was incredibly fortunate to be in the game in the fourth, considering that they were beaten so soundly on the boards and that their starting front court of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Tayshaun Prince combined for 31 points on 11-27 shooting and only 10 rebounds. The paint was turned into a wrestling ring in this game, inhospitable for scoring on either end, so Blake Griffin struggled as well. But guess what? If you turn a Clippers-Grizzlies game into a battle between the backcourts, the Clippers are going to win every time.
The Clippers have four outstanding guards (five if you count Willie Green) and they all played well tonight. Chris Paul (23), Chauncey Billups (14), Eric Bledsoe (15) and Jamal Crawford (13) combined to score 65 points on 23-38 shooting -- against the best defensive team in the Western Conference! Bledsoe has grown into a full-blown Grizzly-killer at this point, and the Clippers have now won five games in a row against Memphis when Bledsoe plays, dating back to Game 7 in last year's playoffs.
And credit Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro for getting creative with his ultra deep guard corps -- the decisive fourth quarter run came with Paul, Bledsoe and Billups -- three point guards -- playing together. It was almost certainly the first time this season that the threesome has played extended minutes together, and with Bledsoe wrapping up Mike Conley and Billups holding his own against Prince on the defensive end, they absolutely wrecked the Grizzlies on offense.
Even if the decisive rebounding advantage is probably not sustainable for the Clippers in throughout the series, the rest of the game plan worked like a charm. The Clippers displayed some of their best ball movement of the season to attack the vaunted Memphis defense, shooting over 55% on the night and scoring 110 points, the second most Memphis has allowed all season. Randolph may have been able to take Griffin out of the game with his sumo style (Griffin fouled out in the fourth, with four of the fouls called on contact initiated by Randolph, his disqualification capped off by a questionable blocking call), but it worked both ways, and Randolph was essentially just as absent as Griffin. They each played a total of just 25 minutes due to foul trouble. If the Clippers can't go to Griffin, they can go to Paul or Crawford or Billups, etc. If Memphis can't go to Randolph when they need a bucket, where exactly do they go?
But be cautious here. In a prerecorded interview coming back from a commercial break, Paul said that he learned during his first playoff experience that if you win by 20 points in Game 1, you don't get to take a 20 point lead into Game 2. The Clippers would be wise to remember those words. Because as much fun as that 37 point fourth quarter was Saturday night, if Memphis comes out and steals an ugly 83-82 win at the buzzer on Monday night, then the series is 1-1 leaving L.A. Though the Clippers would be +20 over two games, Memphis would nonetheless have stolen home court advantage. All the Clippers have done so far is hold serve.
Can the Grizzlies regroup? Well, we can be pretty sure that we won't see another game in this series where Bledsoe gets as many rebounds as Randolph and Gasol COMBINED, right? But Memphis has some real issues here. They have no answer for Paul, and the simple fact is that Conley, as good as he's been all season against the league, has struggled against the Clippers for two seasons now. Jerryd Bayless led Memphis in scoring and helped keep them in the game at times -- this one would have gotten ugly a lot sooner than it did without Bayless efforts, and that's not something that Memphis can really count on every night.
We've already discussed the Clippers 47-23 overall advantage on the boards, but really that's not the most telling stat of the game. The real key was limiting Memphis to just four offensive rebounds on the evening. Memphis had the second best offensive rebounding percentage in the league this season. They don't shoot a great percentage out of their offense, but they hit the glass hard and get a lot of second chance points. Four offensive rebounds is a season low for Memphis and it certainly doomed them to defeat in this game. The Clippers can't expect a carbon copy when the teams play again Monday night, but what they can do is continue to box out on the defensive glass. All of the Clipper bigs -- Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins -- played intelligent, fundamentally sound basketball tonight. When Memphis shots went up, neither Gasol nor Randolph found open lanes to the glass and the Clippers held the Memphis starting bigs to zero offensive rebounds between them. That's absolutely huge, and that sort of effort to box out is completely in the Clippers' control.
It's hard to imagine a better, more fun start to a playoff series against the dreaded Grizzlies than a wire-to-wire 20 point drubbing. But it's still only one game. The score of the series is not 112-91, it's 1-0. So the Clippers need to come out Monday night and do it again.
For the Memphis perspective, visit Grizzly Bear Blues.
|Final - 4.20.2013
|Los Angeles Clippers