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Sunday, May 13, 2012
What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

By Arash Markazi

Western Conference first round: Game 7 (series tied 3-3) Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, 10 a.m. PT

Five storylines to watch:

1. Healing up: The Clippers clearly weren’t the same team in Game 6 without a healthy Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and less than 48 hours later, they’re not likely to be much better. The sprained left knee Griffin suffered in the third quarter of Game 5 and strained right hip flexor Paul suffered in the fourth quarter of the same game has made it impossible for both to be themselves on the court. After the game on Friday, neither player made an excuse for their performance, but with Griffin taking 20-foot jumpers instead of attacking the basket and Paul playing off the ball, instead of penetrating the paint, it was easy to see how much they were hurt. If neither can play better in Game 7, it would be hard to imagine the Clippers coming away with the win.

2. Closing time: With a win Sunday, 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: winning 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. The 3-1 series lead the Clippers had to start the week is now gone after the Grizzlies have won the past two games to force a Game 7. Only eight teams in NBA playoffs history have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a seven-game series, but history is now on Memphis’ side.  In NBA history, only 21 teams have won a Game 7 on the road. Orlando was the last team to do it, defeating the Celtics in Boston in the Eastern Conference first round in 2009. Also, in the 28 instances in which the home team lost Game 6, it has gone on to win Game 7 only 10 times (35.7 percent).

3. No excuses: The stats certainly back up what is clearly visible on the court with a limited Paul. The Clippers were outscored by 13 points during the 75 minutes that Paul played in the last two games, including by five points in Game 6. Los Angeles shot 38.9 percent with Paul on the floor in Games 5 and 6, after shooting 47.7 percent with Paul on the court in the first four games of the series. As much as he was limited, the Grizzlies weren’t buying any excuses heading into Game 7. "I didn't know he was hurt. He's hurt? I didn't know he was hurt,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. “Everybody's hurt if that's the case. It's the playoffs, man. We're not looking for excuses. My knee's hurting and I'm out there playing. I'm not looking for no excuses, because it's the playoffs."

4. Controlling the paint: Take a quick look at the final box scores from the Grizzlies’ wins in this series and it isn’t hard to tell that points in the paint will be key for them in Game 7. The Grizzlies are at their best when Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are at their best. In Game 6 they combined for 41 points and 25 rebounds and in Game 5 they combined for 42 points and 17 rebounds. While Griffin has done his best to keep pace with his injury, DeAndre Jordan has been a nonfactor, combining for eight points and four rebounds in the past two games. “I think that’s big for us,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “When Zach is doing other things it helps us. We feel he needs to get going and and get some good looks early. He’s been able to come through for us in the end.”

5. Bench help: The Clippers' bench nearly pulled out a win for them in Game 6. Led by Eric Bledsoe’s 14 points and six assists and Kenyon Martin’s 10 points and two rebounds, the tandem kept the Clippers in the game without Paul and Griffin and gave the team an eight-point lead with eight minutes left after a 10-0 run. In the series, the Clippers' bench has outscored Memphis in four games, including holding a 34-15 advantage in Game 6. During the season, the Clippers' bench outscored the opposition only 19 times, holding a 10-9 record in those games. Against Memphis, the Clippers' bench has outscored the Grizzlies 176-147 and is averaging 29.3 points. The Clippers' bench averaged 24.8 points during the regular season. “They played great and we had an opportunity to really put them away,” Paul said of the bench after Game 6. “I think that's something that's going to play back in my head a lot.”