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Monday, May 7, 2012
What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

By Arash Markazi

Western Conference first round: Game 4 (Clippers lead 2-1)
Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m. PT


Five storylines to track:

1. Not so free-throws: When Chris Paul first heard how many free throws the Clippers had missed in Game 3, he asked the reporter to repeat the number again. It seemed impossible that the Clippers could win despite missing 17 free throws. In fact, the Clippers effort at the free-throw line (they shot 13-of-30 for 43.3 percent) was the worst free throw percentage in a playoff game in NBA history with a minimum of 30 attempts. While shooting 43.3 percent from the line, the Clippers did shoot 47.1 percent (33-of-70) from the field. Since the 1985-86 season, it is only the sixth time in any game, playoff or regular season, that a team has shot at least 47 percent from the field with over 70 attempts and under 44 percent from the foul line with 30 or more attempts. The last time it occurred was on Nov. 26, 1997 when Washington went 13-of-30 (43.3 percent) from the free throw line and 41-of-75 (54.7 percent) from the field in a win over San Antonio. Since the inception of the shot clock in the 1954-55 season, no team has been outshot by its opponent from the free throw line by such an extreme margin in the postseason and still won the game.

2. Butler’s back: Despite fracturing the fifth metacarpal in his left hand in Game 1 and missing Game 2 after he was supposed to be out 4-6 weeks, Caron Butler returned to the Clippers' starting lineup for Game 3. Butler had 4 points (2-of-7 from the field and 0-of-2 from three-point range), 3 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block in 22 minutes. Although it wasn’t his most productive outing of the season, simply seeing Butler on the court seemed to inspire the Clippers. “He didn't play so many minutes tonight, but his energy and his toughness is something that motivated the rest of us,” Paul said after the game. “That is unreal to see the pain he is going out there playing through.” After missing the Dallas Mavericks’ championship run last season following knee surgery, Butler said he couldn’t sit out this postseason if there was any possible way he could play. "It’s not going to get any more broke," Butler said Sunday of his left hand. “I pretty much took it in stride . . . it felt comfortable enough to be somewhat effective out there.”

3. The bench: One of the biggest surprises of this postseason for the Clippers has been the play of their second unit. The Clippers bench players outscored the Grizzlies' 26-21 in Game 3. It is the second time in the series the Clippers bench has outscored Memphis. 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 95-89 and is averaging 31.6 points. The Clippers bench averaged 24.8 points off the bench during the regular season. The most inspirational player on the second unit has been Clippers forward Reggie Evans, who pulled down 11 rebounds in Game 3. It was the second game of the series that Evans has led the team in rebounds. During the regular season, Evans led the Clippers in rebounds just four times and grabbed double-figures in rebounds five times. The Clippers have also been riding the hot streak Nick Young is on. In the first three games against Memphis, Young is shooting 61.9 percent (13-of-21) from the field and 70 percent (7-of-10) from the 3-point line.

4. Griffin slump: Through his first three playoff games, Blake Griffin is averaging only 6.7 rebounds. That is down from his regular season average of 10.9 rebounds per game. Griffin is in the midst of three straight games without reaching double-digit rebounds for the first time since February. He only had two stretches of three games without at least 10 boards in the regular season. Despite his rebounding struggles and his difficulty to get loose offensively (Griffin is averaging 18.6 points per game), the Clippers are leading the series 2-1. In the Clippers’ two wins, Griffin has only scored 17 points and grabbed an average of 5.5 rebounds. The Clippers lost Game 2 when Griffin scored 22 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. It backs up an odd statistical trend this season where the Clippers are 3-12 when Griffin scores 25 or more points.

5. CP3 does it again: In the Clippers’ Game 3 win, Chris Paul had 24 points and 11 assists. It was the first time in Clippers history that a player had at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff game. It was just the 11th time in his career that Paul has had at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff game.  In Game 2, Paul recorded game-high totals in points (29), assists (6), steals (5) and turnovers (5) against the Grizzlies. There have been only two other instances over the last two seasons in which a player led both teams in all four of those categories in one playoff game. Paul did it against the Lakers in the opening round last year, as did Russell Westbrook against the Grizzlies in the last year’s conference semifinals. Paul’s line in that game was just the 25th time since 1986 that a player has compiled those numbers in a playoff game and the first since Deron Williams on May 26, 2007 when he had 31 points, 8 assist and 5 steals against San Antonio.