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NBA Playoffs Round 1 Game 5 Clippers-Grizzlies preview: Best 2 out of 3

We're back in Los Angeles, and the Clippers and Grizzlies are all even in the NBA Playoff series, two games apiece. The home team has won all four games so far -- hopefully that trends continues through Game 5 tonight.

Andy Lyons
2013 NBA Playoffs - First Round

Game 5 - April 30th, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
STAPLES Center in Los Angeles
Prime Ticket, TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Series Schedule
Series tied 2-2
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, 7:30 p.m., Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 6 - Fri May 3, 6:30 p.m., 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 Tony Wroten
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)
Keyon Dooling (neck) questionable

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:

The Clippers and Grizzlies played a seven Game series in last year's playoffs -- and after four games this year, they appear headed that way again. It's strange in a way that this series has followed home court advantage so rigidly -- prior to Games 3 and 4, the Clippers had won three straight in Memphis, and the Grizzlies had won two of three in L.A. before the start of the postseason. No matter, this is the only first round series out of eight that is tied 2-2, and obviously the only won where the home team has won all four games ([Note by Steve Perrin, 04/30/13 8:45 AM PDT ] Except, you know, for the other series that is tied 2-2 with the home team winning every game, Indiana and Atlanta; apparently, that series doesn't count to me. Hat tip to citizen chrisd for the correction.) The Clippers would be fine with having that trend continue, since two of the final three games are in L.A. -- but they sure as hell can't just assume it's going to happen. This series is going to be a battle every step of the way, and the Clippers will have to take it from Memphis, even with the STAPLES crowd behind them. It all starts with rebounding -- the Clippers won the battle of the boards in the first two games and took a 2-0 lead; the Grizzlies dominated the glass in Memphis and tied things up. It seems pretty straightforward -- rebound to win. I don't think the Clippers necessarily have to get more rebounds, but they have to keep it close, and they have to limit Memphis' second chances. The other thing that MUST happen is that some of the Clippers shooters have to show up. Starting wings Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups were 0-10 in Game 4 on Saturday for zero points. I didn't look it up, but I'm pretty sure that ties the record for the fewest points in a game by the starting wings in NBA Playoff history.

The Antagonist:

The Grizzlies suddenly look like a different team. Not just a different team than they were in Games 1 and 2, but a different team than they've been in a very long time. That's because suddenly Zach Randolph is a monster again. In the 2011 playoffs, the Grizzlies rode Randolph's inside presence to a first round win over San Antonio and three wins in the second round against Oklahoma City. But since Randolph's knee injury last year, we've rarely seen that player -- until now. The Grizzles have remained formidable because of their defense, but there was always the feeling that their offense wouldn't provide enough. With Z-Bo back in business, this team is not just formidable -- they're scary. It doesn't hurt them that Tony Allen is averaging almost 12 points per game on 50 percent shooting in the series (his season averages were nine points on 44.5 percent). Marc Gasol is a beast and he's going to be consistent, and that defense is always going to be tough. But if Zach is his 2011 monster self and Allen and Tayshaun Prince can help out making shots, the Clippers could be in big trouble.

The Subplots

  • Series Preview. Be sure to check out the Series Preview; all the good stuff in there is still plenty applicable.
  • Chatting with the enemy. With the series tied 2-2, Kevin Lipe from Grizzly Bear Blues and myself had an extended chat about things.
  • Butler, home and away. Some players play better at home; some players, it doesn't matter so much. Statistically, it has mattered a great deal for Caron Butler this season. Butler has shot .462 overall and .420 from three point range in home games this season; those numbers were .376 and .349 on the road. Those are his regular season splits, and the trend has more or less continued in the playoffs: he was 10-15 in two games in L.A., 3-10 (including 0-4 in Game 4) in Memphis. Which is fine: he's home so he'll shoot great. Maybe bench him for Grant Hill when the series goes back on the road.
  • 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 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 in Memphis. Billups made just 3-14 from the field in Games 3 and 4, and on the defensive end he has been lit up by Tony Allen of all people. I understand the allure of Billups, and Del Negro more or less has to stick with the plan at this point -- he could yet prove to be invaluable in a later round. But the Clippers still have to get out of THIS round, and that's looking less likely with Billups than without him right now.
  • Historical stats. When the Clippers were up 2-0, we went through some historical stats that said that teams up 2-0 win over 90 percent of the time. You're probably asking yourself, what do those stats say when that 2-0 lead is lost and the series stands at 2-2? Well, I'm here to tell you. In this specific situation (that is two home wins followed by two road losses), NBA teams across all playoff rounds have won well over 80 percent of the time (51-11, .823). That percentage is slightly lower in the first round, but the sample size is very small: the team with home court advantage has won seven times and lost twice, .778. So it's not 94 percent, but the historical precedent still heavily favors the Clippers. Which means almost exactly nothing of course.
  • Paul and Griffin. After playing dreadful games in Game 3, Clipper stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin came back strong in Game 4. Unfortunately, the rest of their teammates did not. Paul and Griffin will need to play well again in Game 5, but hopefully they'll get a bit more help this time.
  • The 11 man rotation. Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro played a 10 man rotation all season. Most coaches shorten their rotation during the playoffs, but somehow Del Negro has actually lengthened his, playing 11 players non-garbage minutes this series. Del Negro seems to have settled into a bizarre rotation where Ryan Hollins is the backup center in the first half, and Ronny Turiaf is the backup center in the second half. Both Hollins and Turiaf played plenty of minutes during the regular season, they both played well, and Del Negro trusts them out there -- but come on. Pick a horse, Vin. Or better yet, pick DeAndre Jordan. Turiaf played almost 28 minutes in the two games in Memphis -- he hadn't played that many minutes in consecutive games since the beginning of March. I like Turiaf, but the Clippers have a better chance in this series with more Jordan and more Odom, less Turiaf.
  • Fouls per minute. One reason that Hollins has not been able to play past his first appearance is that he has picked up immediate fouls throughout the series. Hollins has picked up 10 fouls in just 29 minutes of play, or over 12 fouls per 36 minutes. Turiaf hasn't been much better, picking up 13 fouls in 13 fouls in 50 minutes, which is 9.4 fouls per 36. Jordan has committed fewer than five fouls per 36. Big deal you say, those fouls are not a problem since we don't need Hollins or Turiaf out there, and it's fine that they're aggressive. But don't forget that those 23 fouls in just 79 minutes are putting the Grizzlies on the foul line, and getting them into the bonus, which in turn is helping Memphis to eight more free throws per game in this series.
  • Series momentum. There's a tendency to look at a team that has won two in a row like the Grizzlies and think they have the momentum, assume they will win the next one. I don't actually have any stats on this one way or the other, but I tend to think the opposite is true, particularly in a series as competitive as you'd expect this one to be. In fact, it's difficult and unusual to beat a good team three times in a row. Unless the Grizzlies have suddenly become the decidedly superior team, one would expect the Clippers, through a sense of desperation and pride at having lost two straight, to come out as the more energized team in Game 5. We'll have to wait and see what happens of course, but don't assume that two straight leads to three straight. It certainly didn't work that way last Thursday.
  • Depth. The Clippers have better depth, I don't think anyone would disagree. But the Grizzlies do have a tremendous starting lineup, and with two days off before Game 5, and two days off before Game 6, they can play those starters a long time tonight. If they stay out of foul trouble, I think three or four Grizzly starters go 40 minutes tonight.
  • 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.