Western Conference first round: Game 5 (Clippers lead 3-1)
Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum, 6:30 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Closing time: With their next win in this series, the Clippers will accomplish something that has only happened to the franchise one other time since moving to California in 1978 and only twice in franchise history -- win a playoff series. The last time the Clippers won a playoff series was six years ago when they beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round in five games. With a 3-1 series lead, the Clippers could close out their first round series with Memphis in five games Wednesday night. Unlike Lakers center Andrew Bynum, however, Chris Paul knows the fourth win will not come easy. "The close-out game is the toughest one,” said Paul, who has only advanced past the first round once in his career. Only eight teams in NBA playoffs history have come back from a 3‐1 series deficit to win a seven‐game series but expect Game 5 to be close. Despite being down 3‐1 in the series, the Grizzlies actually lead the overall scoreboard 386‐385.
2. Griffin steps up: After a couple of subpar performances in both of the Clippers’ wins this postseason, Blake Griffin erupted for 30 points with seven assists and five rebounds. It was the first time a Clippers player had scored at least 30 points in a playoff game since Elton Brand had 36 points on May 22, 2006 at Phoenix. Griffin has now made 28 of his 33 field goals in the series inside of five feet with 24 coming on dunks (12) and layups (12). Griffin's 14 points per game from inside five feet leads all players in this year’s playoffs. Griffin, however, is still struggling on the boards. He is averaging 6.3 rebounds in his first four playoff games against the Grizzlies which is down from his regular season average of 10.9 boards per game. Griffin is in the midst of four straight games without reaching double-digit rebounds. During the regular season, he did not go four consecutive games without reaching double-digit rebounds.
3. Dynamic duo: In the Clippers’ Game 4 win, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin scored or assisted on 30 of the Clippers' 34 field goals and 81 of the team's 101 points, including all 10 field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime. Griffin finished the game with 30 points and seven assists while Paul finished with 27 points and seven assists. The Clippers were the first NBA team to have a pair of players with at least 25 points and at least seven assists in a playoff game since another pair of Clippers did it back on May 14, 2006, when Elton Brand had 30 and eight and Sam Cassell had 28 and nine in a victory over the Suns. Paul, however, separated himself from the pack in overtime, scoring eight of his 27 points in the extra session and totaling 10 points in the 4th quarter and overtime period. Paul has been one of the league’s top crunch-time players in the regular season and playoffs. In the final five minutes of games, with his team ahead or behind by five points, Paul ranks second in the NBA with 16 total points.
4. Break me off something: As incredible as it is that Clippers forward Caron Butler is playing with a fractured left hand, the fact that he has been one of the best players on the floor for the Clippers despite his injury is even more amazing. Butler, who was supposed to be sidelined 4-6 weeks after fracturing his left hand in Game 1, finished Game 4 with 14 points in 26 minutes. It was the most points of the series for Butler, who scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter, going 4-of-6 from the field in 10 minutes. Butler was modest before the game talking about playing through the pain of the injury. “The role that I’m playing right now, what I’m doing, I can play with no hands,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. I can play.”
5. Bench mob: The Clippers bench has outscored Memphis two times already in their first round series. During the regular season, the Clippers bench outscored the opposition only 19 times, holding a 10-9 record in those games. In the series against Memphis, the Clippers bench has outscored the Grizzlies 116-112 and is averaging 28.9 points. The Clippers bench averaged 24.8 points off the bench during the regular season. A big key for the Clippers' second unit has been the play of forward Nick Young. In the first four games of this series, Young is shooting 56.0 percent (14-of-25) from the field and 8-of-13 (70.0 percent) from the 3-point line. Young is also 6-of-6 from the foul line in the series.