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Grizzlies bully Clippers with inside game

4/28/2013

Most of the things Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph do on a nightly basis don’t show up in the box score.

Combining for 48 points and 22 rebounds in a 21-point victory is impressive enough, but the Memphis duo's impact against the Los Angeles Clippers isn't fully captured by those numbers since the series shifted to Memphis for Games 3 and 4.

The pushing and shoving under the basket, hard screens, constant battling for position, high-low passes and effective use of their massive frames are just some of the things that make them arguably the best big-man tandem in the NBA.

While Randolph rode the momentum from his breakout performance in Game 3 to another monster outing in Game 4, Gasol showed his first glimpses of offensive dominance all series, asserting himself in the second half after a halftime speech from head coach Lionel Hollins.

A focal point of the Grizzlies’ offensive attack is the high-low play between Gasol and Randolph. With Gasol stationed at the high post, capable of shooting or passing over his defender, and Randolph down low, outmuscling his opponent for position, it’s almost impossible to stop.

The Grizzlies often initiate the movement by running a decoy action to set up either Gasol or Randolph in scoring position later in the possession.

In one instance midway through the second quarter, Mike Conley and Gasol ran a basic pick-and-roll on the left wing. As Conley drove left and evaded the Clippers’ ensuing trap, he got into the paint and kicked the ball back out to Randolph at the top of the key.

Randolph surveyed the floor, and then made an entry pass to Gasol at the left elbow. As Randolph’s defender, Ronny Turiaf, started recovering back to him after helping in the lane to stop Conley’s penetration, Randolph made a nimble backdoor cut and was fed by Gasol for a layup to extend the Grizzlies’ lead to 40-35.

The give-and-go was beautiful, the type of play you’d see from two quick guards, not a pair of lumbering big men.

"Their synergy is pretty amazing,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul told reporters after Game 4. "Z-Bo on the inside and big fella Marc -- that's another guard the way he passes the ball and shoots the ball.”

Whether it’s big-to-big screens along the baseline to create mismatches inside or tag-teaming the offensive boards, Gasol and Randolph have had their way with the Clippers’ big men. Almost no one can guard Randolph one-on-one in the paint, and Gasol’s 7-foot-1 frame allows him to release his grounded jumper whenever he chooses.

Behind the play of their bigs, the Grizzlies dominated the glass (90-61), points in the paint (86-64), and second-chance points (44-6) in Memphis, en route to two double-digit wins and a 2-2 series tie.

To have even remotely a chance of gaining back the edge in the series, the Clippers will need to double-team down low early and often, rotate decisively, and match the Grizzlies’ physicality and intensity.

The Clippers entered Memphis hoping to steal a game and then wrap up the series in L.A. in Game 5. Now, they’re guaranteed a return to FedEx Forum -- their personal house of horrors this postseason -- with their season potentially on the line.

With the history these two teams have, there are no surprises. Each team knows what the other wants to do. The Clippers are well are of the adjustments they need to make, and the type of energy and attention to detail required to handle Memphis’ frontline. Now it’s just a matter of doing it for 48 minutes.