Los Angeles Clippers: Grizzlies

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 99, Grizzlies 73

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
8:06
PM PT


As Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups sat on the bench in suits, the Los Angeles Clippers starting backcourt smiled while watching protégé Eric Bledsoe slice and dice through the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

Paul and Billups took the 23-year-old point guard under their wings as soon as they arrived in Los Angeles before last season and have seen the third-year point guard go from a raw talent to a polished player.

With Paul out Monday night due to a bruised right kneecap and Billups having only played three games this season as he deals with peroneal tendinitis in his left foot, Bledsoe started his first game of the season and only his second game during the past two seasons.

Bledsoe responded as Paul and Billups predicted he would. He posted 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, a pair of steals, a block and, just as important, zero turnovers in leading the Clippers to a 99-73 win. The 26-point margin was the largest ever for the Clippers over the Grizzlies.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Bledsoe shines

As talented and as deep as the Clippers are, most within the Clippers’ locker room will say Bledsoe is their secret weapon. He is an immensely talented point guard with a ceiling he hasn’t come close to reaching. In his first start of the season, Bledsoe showed why Paul and Billups have continued to refer to him as a starter despite only averaging about 18 minutes off the bench for the Clippers. Paul and Billups were in Bledsoe’s right and left ear on the bench and during timeouts, just like they usually are in practice. They always tell him to be aggressive and push the tempo, and he did just that from the opening tip Monday. Bledsoe also was a force on defense, with a couple of steals and a big block in the first half that helped turned the tide of the game early. “I did what I do,” Bledsoe said. “Come in, get blocks and get my teammates going, and play my type of game.”

Defense tightens

Coach Vinny Del Negro was disgusted by the way the Clippers played defensively during their last two games at home before flying to Memphis. They escaped with a win over the Dallas Mavericks but weren’t able to hold on to a 13-point lead against the Orlando Magic. On Monday night, the Clippers turned in their best defensive performance of the season. They held Memphis to just 73 points, a season low for a Clippers opponent. They also held the Grizzlies to just 30.3 percent shooting from the field, which is their worst shooting performance in franchise history. And anyone who has followed the Grizzlies over the years can tell you they’ve had some bad shooting nights.

A Tribe Called Bench

The Clippers have been called the deepest team in the NBA by most opposing players and coaches who have played against them this season, but no game showcased this team’s depth quite like Monday’s win over Memphis. Playing without Paul and Billups, the Clippers not only defeated the Grizzlies, they embarrassed them. They went up by 19 points at the half and blew the game wide open to win by 26 points. As has been the case most of this season, much of the credit for the blowout goes to the Clippers’ second unit. Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes scored 16 points apiece and all 11 players that got on the floor for the Clippers scored. The final plus/minuses for the Clippers’ reserves were off the charts, with Lamar Odom (plus-25), Crawford (plus-22), Barnes (plus-18), Grant Hill (plus-16) and Ronny Turiaf (plus-14) all in double digits. Bledsoe (plus-10) was the only Clippers starter in double figures.

Clippers have a new rival in Memphis

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
12:42
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Paul was sitting at home during the summer, watching NBA TV one day, he sat in his living room transfixed as he watched replays the Los Angeles Clippers’ seven-game playoffs series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

He had so much fun watching Reggie Evans at one moment during the marathon replay that he picked up the phone and called his former teammate to reminisce about the first-round series.

“I’ll never forget that,” Paul said. “I actually watched it all. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

When the NBA schedule was released soon after, Paul knew exactly what the league was doing when they pitted the Clippers against the Grizzlies so early. They essentially wanted to start the season with a Game 8 between the two teams.

“When the schedule was released over the summer, I’m sure players on both teams were like, ‘I’m sure this isn’t a coincidence,’” Paul said. “I’m sure this was on purpose.”

If the league was hoping for an extension of the Clippers and Grizzlies' playoff series and refueling the fire of a budding rivalry, they got their wish Wednesday night.

Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph went at each other for most of the game, as if their playoff series had never ended. It nearly manifested into a fight in the fourth quarter, when the two had to be separated on two occasions, with Randolph pulling Griffin down from behind on a third occasion.

“We didn’t really say much to each other,” Griffin said with a smile after the game. “It’s one of those things, after 48 minutes of pushing and shoving and being down low on both ends, it gets to you after a while.”

After the game Randolph said he enjoys messing with Griffin, but that it seems Griffin now knows that he’s messing with him more than he did last season. Instead of overreacting after every missed foul, Griffin will either move on or, as he did following back-to-back altercations, simply smile at Randolph.

“I kind of [knew he was messing with me] last year, too, but you have to know what guys are doing and why they’re doing it,” Griffin said. “For me, it’s important to not get involved and to stay focused and not play anybody else’s game and play my own game.”

When Griffin was again asked about Randolph, he deadpanned, “Yeah, we’re going to go have dinner now.”

The budding rivalry between the Clippers and Grizzlies -- and between Griffin and Randolph -- is a vital part of the growth process of the Clippers. Sure, they have a rivalry with the Lakers, but that’s more a product of the city they play in and arena they share than playoff meetings (none) and historical comparisons (few and far between).

Inside of the Clippers’ practice facility is a display case where they keep such artifacts as the NBA Lottery balls that helped them draft Blake Griffin and various trophies for community service their owner, Donald Sterling, has been given. It is currently void of any division, conference or league titles.

But during the offseason, the team placed a painted game ball from Game 7 of the Grizzlies series in the case. It was, after all, only their third playoff series win in franchise history and the first Game 7 win.

When you’re trying to build a winning culture, coming back from 24 points down with less than eight minutes left on the road in the playoffs, as the Clippers did in Game 1, then coming back to win a playoff series on the road in Game 7 are key moments.

Paul was continually asked about the Lakers heading into the season, but he knew the Grizzlies would be just as tough, if not tougher, than their neighbors at season’s start. As much attention as Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol may get, Paul said he thinks the tandem of Randolph and Marc Gasol, Pau’s brother, may be just as potent in the paint at this point.

“If someone was expecting a blowout tonight, they’re trippin’,” Paul said. “That’s a great team that we beat over there. They have a great coach and an unbelievable offense. Those two big men that they have are the two best big men in the game on the same team, as far as synergy. I don’t know anybody that knows how to pass and seal like those two guys. That’s a playoff team that we just beat in a tough first game.”

It was a tough first game that was really a continuation of the Clippers' playoffs run last season … and perhaps the start of their first real rivalry that isn't simply based on location.

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 101, Grizzlies 92

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
10:45
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- Most of the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t need much of a scouting report on the Memphis Grizzlies heading into Wednesday night’s season opener.

After playing Memphis in a classic, seven-game series last season and winning only their third playoff series in franchise history -- and first Game 7, on the road no less -- the Clippers were more than familiar with their opponent. The physicality and bitterness from their playoff series five months ago seemingly bled over into the season opener and the Clippers’ 101-92 win over the Grizzlies.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Griffin and Randolph get chippy

There was already some bad blood between Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph after last season’s physical playoff series, during which Griffin and Randolph got into more than a few altercations. Their feud continued into Wednesday’s season opener, when Griffin and Randolph had to be separated after the two got tangled following a play late in the fourth quarter. On the next play, Randolph took down Griffin following a basket. Cooler heads seemed to prevail following the back-to-back incidents as the two shared a smile when they returned to the court. But there was nearly another blowup after Griffin blocked a Randolph dunk attempt late in the game and the two again had to be separated. The Clippers and Grizzlies don’t play again until Jan. 14 in Memphis, but there is no question that Griffin and Randolph are now the headliners to what has become a pretty solid rivalry in the NBA.

Crawford makes his case

Jamal Crawford wasn’t the most popular preseason choice for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, but he told anyone who would listen that he was the smart pick. He certainly made anyone (present company included) that picked him to win the award look especially smart Wednesday night. He finished with a team-high 29 points in 30 minutes off the bench and scored 15 of those points in the first half, helping the Clippers take a 12-point lead in the first half. The second-team backcourt of Crawford and Eric Bledsoe will be a handful for opposing benches this season, as Bledsoe picks up the tempo and runs the offense at a breakneck speed and dishes off to Crawford on the wing for wide-open shots. Crawford’s signature play of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when he crossed over Rudy Gay so badly Gay fell to his feet as Crawford finished the basket.

Jordan’s issues

It’s almost impossible to get a perfect night from DeAndre Jordan. On most nights you’ll have to take the good with the bad and decide if the good is, well, good enough to put up with the bad. It wasn’t always the case on Wednesday night, as the Clippers had to rely on Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf more than they probably had planned. While Jordan was a force on the offensive side, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, he committed nine turnovers and had only seven rebounds. While Jordan worked on his post game and his shot over the summer, he clearly still needs to work on his handles. Jordan did end the game strong, putting the finishing touches on the Clippers win with a lob dunk from Chris Paul in the final minute that brought the sold-out crowd to its feet.

Clippers rewrite their history books

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
3:02
PM PT


After everything the Los Angeles Clippers had done over the past six months to change their perception and transform the culture of the team, they were right back where they started before the biggest game of their season.

Going into Sunday’s Game 7 against the Memphis Grizzlies, the history and numbers were stacked against them, a position the Clippers have become all too familiar with in their star-crossed history.

The Clippers had never won a Game 7 in franchise history and had won only two playoff series, the last in 2006. In the history of the NBA playoffs, the road team had posted a 25.5 winning percentage in deciding games of a playoff series.

As has been the case for most of this season, Chris Paul ignored the history and the numbers that were stacked against him and led the Clippers to their second playoff series win since 1976 with an 82-72 win over the Grizzlies that will surely go down as the biggest in team history. The Clippers now advance to the second round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs.

There were questions looming around Paul’s availability, or at least his effectiveness, heading into the game after he suffered a strained right hip flexor in Game 5 that limited him in Game 6. The same was true for Blake Griffin, who suffered a sprained left knee in Game 5 that made it hard for him to stay on the floor in the fourth quarter of Game 6 and again in Game 7, as he played 1:39 of the final period.

It was Paul’s toughness through the first three quarters of the game that put the Clippers in position to win. He had team highs with 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists heading into the fourth quarter, while no other Clippers player had reached double figures in points. But when the fourth quarter -- a time Paul has always referred to as “winning time” -- rolled around, it was the Clippers’ bench that propelled them to victory.

The Clippers' bench scored the first 23 points of the fourth quarter and took the Clippers from a 56-55 deficit to start the final period to a 71-61 lead with 6:17 left before Paul returned to the game and assumed his “closer” role. The Clippers' bench scored 41 points, the same number as the Clippers’ starters.

Reserves Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young, Mo Williams, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans sparked the Clippers’ historic comeback from 24 points down with 7:55 left in Game 1, and the same second unit gave the Clippers a double-digit cushion in the fourth quarter of Game 7. The bench was one of the deciding factors in this series, outscoring the Grizzlies in five of the seven games, including a 41-to-11 advantage on Sunday.

Before the fourth quarter, Martin gathered the Clippers’ second unit and told them: “We’re going to be aggressive on the defensive end. We’re going to trap O.J. [Mayo] and we’re going to trap Rudy [Gay]. It’s on us right now. Don’t wait. This is what it’s about. This is what we’re here for. We’re in a great position, so let’s go out and take it.” Martin had been in these situations before as one of three Clippers who had played in a Game 7 -- and the only active Clipper who had advanced to the NBA Finals.

(Read full post)

What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

May, 13, 2012
5/13/12
1:45
AM PT
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.”

What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
9:20
AM PT

Western Conference first round: Game 6 (Clippers lead 3-2)
Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center, 6:00 p.m. PT


Five storylines to track:

1. Game-time decision: The biggest storyline heading into Game 6 is the health of Clippers forward Blake Griffin and Clippers guard Chris Paul. Griffin suffered a sprained left knee with 1:31 remaining in the third quarter in Game 5. Griffin returned to the game and played about nine minutes but did not score and went 0-for-1 from the field. Paul strained his right hip flexor with 5:16 remaining in the game. Paul played just nine minutes in the fourth quarter and scored only 2 points. They’re both listed as game-time decisions but bother players said Wednesday night they will be in the starting lineup Friday. "They're both pretty sore today," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Thursday. "They were in here getting as much therapy as they can today and tomorrow before the game. We obviously need both of them to be playing at a high level."

LACMEM2. 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. Only eight teams in NBA playoffs history have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a seven-game. Game 6 in Los Angeles might as well be a must-win game for the Clippers if they want to win this series. In the history of the NBA playoffs, teams have closed out 62 of the 90 best-of-seven series when leading 3-2 and playing Game 6 at home (68.9 percent). In the 28 instances in which the home team has lost in that situation, it has gone on to win Game 7 only 10 times (35.7 percent).

3. Battle in the paint: In Game 5, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol led the team with a playoff season-high 23 points and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the 2012 playoffs, in helping the Grizzlies stay alive. In the first quarter Randolph made all six field goal attempts and scored 15 points, while Gasol added 12 points, as Memphis scored 36 points in the first quarter, the team’s highest first-quarter output of the entire season. Meanwhile, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers. Jordan, however, didn’t do much to add to that stat line, finishing with 1 point and 0 rebounds. In the first five games of the series, the Clippers have been outscored 478-465 despite holding a 3-2 series advantage. The Clippers have also been outrebounded 250-236 in the series.

4. Close calls: Recent history says Game 6 will be a close game that will come down to the last couple of possessions. The Grizzlies lost by a one-point margin in Game 1 and Game 3. No team in NBA history has won a playoff series after losing at least two games by a single point during the series. Memphis did not lose a game by a one-point margin during the entire 2011-12 regular season. The average margin of victory has been only five points per game in the five games that have been played in this series. That is the lowest average margin of victory in any of the eight first-round series in this year’s playoffs. The average win margin has been 10.6 points per game in all of the other first-round games that have been played in 2012.

5. Bench warming up: The Clippers' bench has outscored Memphis three times in their first-round series, including holding a 26-20 advantage in Game 5. 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 142-132 and is averaging 28.4 points. The Clippers' bench averaged 24.8 points off the bench during the regular season. In Game 5, Clippers guard Mo Williams came off the bench and led the team with 20 points. It was the most points scored by Williams in this series, and the most points he has scored in a playoff game since he went for 22 points two years ago in Cleveland. In the Clippers' three wins in the series, the Clippers have been aided by big contributions from Eric Bledsoe, Nick Young and Reggie Evans. Young and Bledsoe have combined for 26 points and 7 rebounds in the fourth quarter in the Clippers’ three wins, and Evans has pulled down a team-high 15 rebounds in the Clippers’ three playoff wins.

Clippers face must-win on Friday night

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
11:24
PM PT

As the final seconds ticked off the clock during the Memphis Grizzlies’ 92-80 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night, the chant at FedExForum grew louder and louder.

"See you Sunday! See you Sunday!"

Of course, before a potential Game 7 back in Memphis on Sunday, there will be a Game 6 Friday night in Los Angeles. Mathematically, just like Wednesday’s Game 5, it will be a must-win game for the Grizzlies but it will be just as much of a must-win for the Clippers if they are still to win this series.

When the Clippers left Memphis Wednesday night and boarded their charter flight back to Los Angeles, they knew this had to be their last roundtrip to Tennessee if they hoped to make a trip to San Antonio next week for the next round of the playoffs. If they are forced to make a return trip the River City this weekend, they might as well start making vacation plans while they’re at it.

“We fought hard for home-court advantage and we want to take full advantage of it,” Clippers guard Mo Williams said after losing Game 5. “Our Game 7 is Friday.”

As hard as the Clippers fought to gain home-court advantage in their historic comeback win in Game 1, winning Game 6 will be even harder if they are forced to play with a hobbled Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Paul and Griffin both finished the game on the sideline after Griffin suffered a sprained left knee and Paul suffered a strained right hip flexor late in the game. Both will be re-evaluated Thursday in Los Angeles.

Chances are both will be on the floor Friday night, but the best indicator of how serious Paul’s injury may be was the sight of him on the bench in his warm-ups with the Clippers down by just six points with about a minute left in the game. This was the same player that urged Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro to keep the starters in the game when the Clippers were down 24 points with 7:55 left in Game 1, setting the stage for their comeback.

After Paul scored eight of the Clippers’ 14 points in overtime and led them to a win in Game 4, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said containing Paul would be the biggest factor in extending the series. As a reporter asked Hollins how Memphis was able to contain Paul in Game 5, Hollins was quick not to take any credit for Paul's absence at the end of the game.

"I think he contained himself when he got hurt and went to the bench," Hollins said. "He was coming on. He helped bring them back and then he got hurt and went to the bench."

As confident as the Clippers might claim to be if this series does go back to Memphis for Game 7, they know they have been consistently outplayed in all three games outside of the final eight minutes of Game 1. In the second half of their home playoff games in this series, the Grizzlies have been up by as many as 27 points in Game 1, 13 points in Game 2 and 24 points in Game 5. Overall, in this series they have outscored the Clippers 478-465. Talk to folks in Memphis and they’ll claim they are one historic blown lead in Game 1 and two missed jumpers by Rudy Gay at the end of regulation in Games 3 and 4 from moving on to the next round already.

"Our backs are against the wall. We felt like we should have definitely won the first game and we felt we should have won the first game in L.A. too," said Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds. "We’re right there. We just have to put a whole game together. We’re going to come out firing and we’re going to be ready."

Despite what a certain center in Los Angeles may think, closeout games are the hardest to win in the NBA, or any sport for that matter. No one knows that better than Paul, who has only won a single playoff series in his career. "The closeout game is the toughest one," Paul said. "It won’t be easy."

It will obviously be infinitely harder if Griffin and Paul are not at full strength for the Clippers by Friday night. Either way, the Clippers are hoping they can ride a loud wave of red-clad fans at Staples Center to their first playoff series win in six years and only their second since the franchise moved to California in 1978. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are simply trying to win their first game against the Clippers in Los Angeles this year to stay alive.

"We understand it’s going to be a tough environment but we’ve played in tougher environments," Randolph said. "We just have to come out and play basketball. We understand more calls might go their way but, oh well, we just have to come out play. We can’t argue with the refs, we just have to come out and play basketball."

If the Grizzlies can do that and figure out a way to win in L.A. on Friday night, well, as the old saying in Memphis goes, "See you Sunday!"

What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
9:26
AM PT

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 31 series deficit to win a sevengame series but expect Game 5 to be close. Despite being down 31 in the series, the Grizzlies actually lead the overall scoreboard 386385.

(Read full post)


LOS ANGELES -- He'd flown through the night to arrive on time, and after three weeks of dangling in maddening uncertainty while the New Orleans Hornets worked out David Stern's version of the very best deal possible, you had to figure Chris Paul might say a few things on his first day as a Clipper he'd regret later.

Right off the top he started talking about being excited to join this "unbelievable franchise with so much history behind it" and you were wondering if the man had any idea of what he'd just signed up for.

Los Angeles Clippers history? There aren’t many parts worth telling. But the more Paul talked about the Clippers' present and future, the more he explained why he he'd chosen them over every other team that expressed an interest, the more obvious it became why he was here.

Of all the sidekicks, in all the joints in the NBA, Chris Paul walked into Blake Griffin's.

It was both a tremendous compliment and a tremendous burden for Griffin to live up to. As brilliant as he was as a rookie, Griffin was still young and unformed.

But part of what makes Paul such a good point guard is his vision. And on this subject he had no doubt: Griffin was good enough.

Paul wasn't interested in first-round playoff losses anymore. He could've stayed in New Orleans for that. Leaving the Hornets was winning more and winning faster, and for some reason, Paul thought Griffin was up to that task, now.

"I had NBA TV,'' Paul joked, when asked whether he was confident Griffin could grow into the teammate he needed him to be. "So yeah, I knew. ... The sky was the limit."

(Read full post)

What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

May, 7, 2012
5/07/12
10:14
AM PT
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.

What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
6:54
AM PT

Western Conference first round: Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)
Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center, 1:30 p.m. PT


Five storylines to track:

1. Let’s get physical: It was the top topic of conversation post-game in the Clippers’ locker room following Game 2, on their flight home from Memphis and at practice on Friday. The Clippers have to be more physical against the Grizzlies if they hope to win this series after the way they were pushed around in Game 2. According Clippers forward Reggie Evans, the Clippers were actually “punked” by Memphis. “We got punked around,” Evans said. “It is what it is. They did a good job of being physical. It showed. The tape don't lie. We just learn from it. It's a great thing that we have a seven-game series ... We were pushed around and that goes for all of us.” The numbers don’t lie either when it comes to Memphis being the aggressors. The Grizzlies hit 31 of 39 free throws in Game 2 while the Clippers connected on just 13 of 18. Memphis also grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to the Clippers' four. "You could say I got punked around a couple of times," Evans said. "They got 16 offensive rebounds, so what is that a sign of? We got pushed around, punked around, that's what it's a sign of. We just have to bounce back.”

2. Don’t call it a comeback: When Clippers forward Caron Butler went down in the third quarter of Game 1 with a fractured left hand, he was initially listed as being out for 4-6 weeks. That was before Butler decided he was well enough to play with a fractured left hand. Butler saw a hand specialist on Thursday in Los Angeles, shot around with the team on Friday, wearing a brace on the hand, and will attempt to play Saturday if he is cleared by the training staff. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Butler would be a game-time decision and could play at some point in this series even if he doesn’t suit up Saturday. "We got a good report yesterday or as good as you could expect," Del Negro said. "He went through some things today and took some shots. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. Caron is a tough guy; he's a battler. He wants to be out there but we also want to be smart about it. I'll evaluate that tomorrow. It was good to see him out there. I think it gives the guys a good boost. He's such a big part of our team and I give him a lot of credit for even being out there. "

3. Turning the page on turnovers: It’s no secret playoff games often come down to which team takes of the ball better. The Clippers finished the season ranked second in the NBA with 13.33 turnovers per game and set a record for the lowest turnover average in franchise history. The problem is the Clippers are going up against a Grizzlies team that led the league in steals (9.6) and forced turnovers (17.1) this year for the secondstraight season. Memphis actually became the first NBA team to lead the league in both categories in consecutive seasons since the 199596 and 199697 Seattle SuperSonics. In Game 2, the Grizzlies recorded 13 steals and forced LA into 21 turnovers, scoring 25 points off the miscues. The turnovers were clearly the difference in the game as the Clippers lost Game 2 despite shooting 56.7 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from three-point range. Prior to the Clippers, the last team to lose a playoff game despite making at least 56 percent of its total field-goals and three-point field goals was the Utah Jazz on May 10, 1992.

4. Home cooking: The Clippers have only lost one game at Staples Center since holding an hour-long, closed-door meeting after a March 15 loss to the Phoenix Suns. That one loss was to the Los Angeles Lakers, which also call Staples Center home. The Clippers success at home not only bodes well for them in Game 3 but also in the series if they win the game. In the history of the NBA playoffs, when the home team has won Game 3 of a best-of-seven series that was tied at one win each, it has gone on to win the series 70.3 percent of the time. When the home team has lost in that situation, it has gone on to win the series only 17.1 percent of the time.

5. Playing big late: The Clippers are shooting 64.9 from the field in the fourth quarter in this series, which is by far the highest fourth quarter field-goal percentage for any team in the 2012 playoffs. The next highest is 52.0 percent by Philadelphia. Six of the eight Clippers who have attempted at least one shot in the fourth quarter are shooting over 57 percent from the field in the final period, including Bobby Simmons and Reggie Evans, who are a combined 5-for-5. Paul is shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 90.0 percent from the free throw line in this year’s playoffs. Only two other players have made at least half of their field-goal attempts and at least 90 percent of their free-throw attempts in the 2012 playoffs.

History is now on the Grizzlies' side

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
11:23
PM PT

There would be no historic comebacks this time. No pleas from Chris Paul to the coaching staff to keep the starters in the game for one last push. No catchy nicknames like the “Miracle in Memphis” that will likely be plastered on knockoff T-Shirts around Staples Center by the time Game 3 rolls around Saturday afternoon.

The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 105-98, to tie their first round series at one game apiece on Tuesday as things returned to relative normalcy on the court. The Clippers came to Memphis and got the split they wanted and the Grizzlies, after a nightmarish fourth quarter where they blew a 24-point lead, left home with what they could salvage.

If history is any indication, Memphis might actually be in control of this series and perhaps even in the driver’s seat to go to the NBA Finals. Yes, you read that right. In the shot-clock era, there have only been four teams to enter the fourth quarter of a playoff game up by at least 18 points and lose. Each of the previous three teams before the Grizzlies joined that dubious club on Sunday (New Jersey in 2002, Dallas in 2011 and Houston in 1994) not only went on to win their series but advanced to the NBA Finals, with Dallas and Houston actually winning the championship.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to think that the Grizzlies’ fourth quarter collapse in Game 1 will somehow spring them all the way to the NBA Finals, but it’s certainly not a stretch now to think their recovery in Game 2 puts them back in position to at least win this series.

Although the Clippers stole homecourt advantage with their win on Sunday, there is still a lingering feeling that they may have caught lightening in a bottle for eight magical minutes at the end of that game. It was a picture-perfect stretch of basketball we might never see again from them or any other team whereas the first 40 minutes of that game was a better indication of some of the mismatches between the Grizzlies and the Clippers in this series.

It seemed both teams did a good job of putting Sunday’s game behind them on Wednesday as the Clippers jumped out to an early seven-point lead and found themselves only down by 4 with 7:55 left in the game instead of 24 as they were 72 hours earlier. The difference this time was Memphis stuck with what got them to the playoffs and made them the team nobody wanted to play in the postseason. They pounded the paint and outscored the Clippers under the glass 46-38 and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to the Clippers’ 4.

The Grizzlies were the aggressors this time around, finishing with an advantage in free throws made and attempted (31-for-39 to 13-for-18), rebounds (37 to 28), second chance points (18 to 6) and fast break points 20 to 6. This was the style of basketball that made Memphis hard to beat in the playoffs last year and made them a trendy dark horse pick by some this year.

As much as the Clippers liked some of their matchups coming into this series, their depth continues to be tested. After losing Caron Butler in Game 1 for 4-6 weeks with a broken left hand, they lost Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe late in Game 2 to injuries although both are expected back for Game 3.

“It gets kind of scary there when you have this guy and that guy getting worked on,” Paul said. “Hopefully everybody will be OK because we don't have anybody left.”

When the Clippers attempted to make another comeback on Wednesday, the Grizzlies stuck with their game plan instead of hastily shooting three-pointers as they did Sunday and suddenly a precarious 4-point lead became a 13-point advantage and the game was over.

“We learned from the last game,” Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay said. “We never got too comfortable, we were composed and no matter what we stayed with our principles and never gave anything up and gave ourselves a chance to win.”

Not only did the Grizzlies win Tuesday, but if history is indication they could be looking at a long run in the playoffs if they advance in this series.

What to watch: Clippers-Grizzlies

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
10:53
AM PT

Western Conference first round: Game 2 (Clippers lead series 1-0)
Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, 6:30 p.m. PT


Five storylines to track:

1. The Comeback: It will be a long time before anyone forgets about the Clippers' historic comeback against the Grizzlies; coming back from 27 points down to upset Memphis. Yet as memorable as the game was, both teams will have to forget it ever happened by the time Wednesday’s game tips off. If the Grizzlies continues to feel sorry for themselves or the Clippers are too full of themselves, Memphis could find itself in a 0-2 hole going to L.A. or the Clippers could lose all the momentum they had after Sunday’s win. What both teams will be focused on is not replicating the way they played at different stages of the game. With the Clippers it’s the first 40 minutes of the game when they fell behind by 27 and for the Grizzlies it’s the final 8 minutes when they were outscored 28-3.

2. Evans steps up: Perhaps the most unsung hero of the Clippers’ comeback in Game 1 was forward Reggie Evans, who equaled his season-high with 13 rebounds. Evans grabbed 13 boards in just 20 minutes, pulling down nine of them in the second half and eight in the fourth quarter alone. Evans becomes the first player since Jeff Foster on May 9, 2005 to have 13 or more rebounds in a playoff game despite playing under 21 minutes. It was the fifth time in Evans’ NBA career that he has reached double-figures in rebounds in a playoff game and the first time since April 20, 2008 when he had 14 for Philadelphia against Detroit. Evans has been the Clippers’ energizer off the bench this season and a fan-favorite at home games. If he can get involved like he did on Sunday, good things usually happen for the Clippers.

3. Butler is out: Clippers forward Caron Butler suffered a fractured fifth metacarpal in his left hand with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter of Game 1 and will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks. Butler underwent an X-ray at the arena during the game which confirmed the injury. Butler, who scored 12 points in 23 minutes on Sunday, now joins Chauncey Billups in street clothes on the sideline during the playoffs. The injury was especially painful for Butler, who said he got emotional prior to Game 1, after missing the end of last season, including the Dallas Mavericks’ championship run following season-ending knee surgery. “I worked so hard to get back to this point,” Butler said. “It was all about getting back to the playoffs and making a difference.”

4. Nick at night: Butler’s likely replacement in the starting lineup will be Nick Young, who made his fifth career playoff appearance on Sunday in Memphis. He was perhaps the biggest difference in the Clippers’ comeback, hitting three straight three-pointers in 60 seconds to help the Clippers cut Memphis’ lead. Young led all scorers with 19 points, scoring nine in the fourth quarter. His three straight three-pointers cut the Memphis lead from a 96-87 lead with 2:47 remaining to 96-93 with 1:47 left in the game. He finished with a plus/minus of +28 compared to Butler’s -27. Young will likely be aided by Mo Williams and Bobby Simmons off the bench in filling the void left by Butler.

5. CP3 to the rescue: With the Clippers down 27 with about two minutes left in the third quarter and 24 points down with 7:55 left in the game, it was Chris Paul who pleaded with Vinny Del Negro to leave the starters in the game. Paul rewarded his coach by leading the Clippers to the improbable win and registering a double-double, scoring 14 points and dishing for 11 assists. It was just the second points/assists double-double in Clippers playoff History, as Paul joined Sam Cassell (13 points/11 assists in April 24, 2006) as the only Clippers player to accomplish the feat. As good as the comeback was, however, Paul knows it won’t happen again if the Clippers themselves behind by 27 points again in Game 2. “I was telling some of the guys the next time we get down that much one of two things is going to happen,” he said. “Either they're going to take it to 35 or 40, or we're only going to come back to around eight and just be able to say it was a good fight.”

Frank Reich loves comeback story

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
4:17
PM PT
Frank Reich didn’t watch the Los Angeles Clippers complete the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. He was asleep as the Clippers came back from a 27-point deficit late in the third quarter and from 24 points down with 7:55 left in the game. But when Reich read the headlines online in the morning and saw the highlights on television, a big smile came over his face.

“Whenever I see a big comeback in any sport it make me think back to the comebacks I was apart of in college and in the NFL,” Reich said. “I always think back to the dynamics of those games and the good memories from being a part of those teams.”

Reich quarterbacked the Buffalo Bills to the greatest comeback in NFL history when he led the Bills back from a 35-3 third quarter deficit to a 41-38 overtime victory against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 AFC Wild Card playoffs. He also led the University of Maryland back from a 31-0 deficit against Miami in 1984 to a 42-40 victory, which was the biggest comeback in college football history at the time.

“The great thing about being a part of the greatest comeback is it’s such a team-oriented thing. It’s not like one guy just takes over,” said Reich, who was a quarterback in the NFL for 15 years and is now the receivers’ coach of the Arizona Cardinals. “You really do need everyone and everything to click in football and in basketball. Even if one guy scores 50 points, it’s the defensive play of the team that drives the comeback. It’s the same in football with your defense making stops and your special teams playing well. I do feel a connection when I see it happen. You take pride in the fact that you were on a team that did something special like that and when you see it happen in other sports it reminds me of that and it’s a great thing. I love that.”

(Read full post)

Learning from the Clippers' comeback

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
12:21
PM PT
It may go down as the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history. Down 24 points with 7:55 left in the game, the Clippers clawed their way back for a remarkable 99-98 victory over Memphis.

But as amazing as the Clippers’ comeback was, there was more to the game than just the final eight minutes.

Here are five takeaways from the game and for the series moving forward:

1. This is a resilient team – We already knew this about the Clippers this season. Sunday’s comeback win marked the 15th time this season the Clippers won a game when trailing by 10 or more points, which is most in NBA. This isn’t the first time the Clippers have attempted to stage a comeback against the Grizzlies in Memphis. Earlier this month the Grizzlies were up on the Clippers 81-64 with 6:20 left before the Clippers went on a 19-5 run and were within 86-83 with 55 seconds left before the Grizzlies eventually won. The difference this time was when the Clippers got close Nick Young was there to make three 3-pointers in 60 seconds and Memphis, well, didn’t make a shot. The Clippers now become the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s in our eyes moving forward in these types of games. Whenever they’re down by double-digits late, everyone, including their opponent, is fully aware of their ability to comeback and win.

2. Don’t be fooled by fool’s gold – As remarkable as the Clippers’ comeback win was, the first 40 minutes of the game simply cannot be ignored. There was a reason the Clippers were down 95-71 with 7:55 left in the game. Just as the Clippers can’t hope for another 28-3 run against Memphis in this series, it might also be wishful thinking to assume Nick Young is going to hit three 3-pointers over a one minute stretch during the fourth quarter and finish with a team-high 19 points. The same goes for Reggie Evans suddenly becoming an offensive threat and finishing with 7 points and 13 rebounds and book-ending the Clippers’ comeback with a pair of baskets. Whatever game plan Memphis had against the Clippers was working just fine until the Grizzlies missed 12 straight shots and didn’t record a single field goal for over eight minutes at the end of the game. If you were playing the odds, unless the Clippers change things up, what Memphis did in the first 40 minutes has a better chance of repeating itself than what the Clippers did in the final 8 minutes.

3. Chris Paul is capable of almost anything – Nobody in the league hates losing more than Paul. He will do just about anything it takes to win. Last season, as he single-handedly willed the undermanned New Orleans Hornets to two wins in their first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, he said, “I don’t care if my momma was out on the court. I’d hit her too.” Paul was about ready to hit Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro as he began pulling his starters when the team was down 27 points before Paul pleaded with Del Negro not too. Paul may have been the only person in the building at that time who thought the Clippers could win the game but his confidence soon became contagious. It is just another example of how Paul has completely changed the culture and image of the Clippers since he was traded to Los Angeles in December.

4. So much for playoff inexperience – The number one talking point at Clippers practices and media availability before the start of the series was that three of the Clippers’ five starters had never played in the playoffs before, and how more than half the roster had no idea what it was like to play meaningful games in April. All of those questions are probably thrown out now after the Clippers’ historic comeback win. After making NBA playoff history, the Clippers have about as much playoff experience as they need moving forward. While everyone talks about how experienced Memphis is after beating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round last year, people forget the Grizzlies were in the same position the Clippers are in this year, and that worked out well for them.

5 Replacing Butler and Billups – Just as the Clippers were perhaps finally getting used to life without Chauncey Billups, they will now be without Caron Butler for 4-6 weeks after he fractured his left hand in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Like Billups, Butler brings veteran leadership and is capable of making timely contributions to the offense. And like Billups, Butler will now sit on the bench and play the role of assistant coach during these critical postseason games. In his absence, Del Negro will need to juggle rotations. He likes Young and Mo Williams coming off the bench, so there is a chance he could go with Bobby Simmons as the starter. No matter who ends up starting though, Butler’s absence will mean more minutes for both Young and Williams moving forward.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
22.9 4.7 0.8 35.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 13.4
AssistsC. Paul 9.5
StealsC. Paul 2.1
BlocksD. Jordan 2.4