Nothing went right for the Clippers in Game 3.
They lost the rebounding battle (45 to 33), turned the ball over 18 times, were outscored in the paint (40-26), and had their worst shooting performance -- 38.8 percent -- since Feb. 1 in Toronto.
The most telling stat, however, was this: Chris Paul had more turnovers (5) than assists (4) or made field goals (4).
After failing to properly execute their pick-and-roll defense against Paul in Games 1 and 2, the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to restrict his space and force him to the left sideline in Game 3, instead of letting him to go to the middle of the floor.
The main adjustment came from the Grizzlies’ big men, who dropped back and station themselves at the free-throw line, preventing Paul from penetrating but also not giving him enough room to get a clean shot off.
With 5:40 remaining in the game, and the Clippers trailing 81-71, Paul dribbled up the left sideline while being hounded by defensive ace Tony Allen, and stopped at the left wing to initiate a side pick-and-roll with Blake Griffin.
As Zach Randolph came up to trap him, Paul split the two defenders and darted towards the paint. He then crossed over from left to right, but didn’t get far, as Allen quickly swiped the ball away from behind. Marc Gasol recovered the loose ball, and the Grizzlies went on an 8-2 run, effectively putting the game out of reach at 89-73.
The sight of Paul being stripped in a crucial juncture, as uncommon as it is, was typical of his performance on the night. He simply had no answer for the Grizzlies’ defense down the stretch. His next two pick-and-roll possessions resulted in an airball 3-pointer and an offensive foul. Four of Paul’s five turnovers came out of pick-and-roll plays.
“We made a big point of emphasis on the pick-and-roll and how our bigs were down low,” Allen told the Memphis Flyer after the game. “They had their antennas on when he was coming off of it. We tried not to let him go to the right as much as he wanted to. That's his strong hand. He does a lot of damage that way.”
In Game 3, the Clippers averaged .53 points per play (PPP) when they ran a pick-and-roll in which the ball-handler scored, got fouled or turned the ball over. For comparison, they scored 1.45 PPP in Game 1 and 1.13 PPP in Game 2 on the same possessions. During the regular season they averaged .83 PPP in those situations, which ranked third in the NBA.
Paul has had off shooting nights before, but he rarely fails to approach double-digit assists, and his four assists tied the fewest he’s had all season when playing at least 30 minutes in a game.
“It's uncharacteristic of us, especially me,” Paul told reporters after the game.
The Grizzlies found a defensive strategy that worked against Paul in Game 3. But seven-game series are all about game-to-game adjustments, so now it’s up to the Clippers to figure out with ways to free up Paul so he can become effective again.
Statistics used in this post are from ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports.com.